Can prospect Neal Pionk start the season with the Rangers?

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The New York Rangers’ defense is going to look different next season, but training camp will show us just how different it’ll be.

New York bought out Dan Girardi, while Kevin Klein decided to retire from the NHL. Meanwhile, they signed Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and they traded for Anthony DeAngelo.

One under-the-radar signing that could also crack the roster, is undrafted free agent Neal Pionk, who spent the last two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The 21-year-old put up an impressive seven goals and 34 points in 42 games last season, and he believes he can make the jump to the NHL without spending time in the minors.

“Whatever happens after training camp happens, but my goal going into training camp is to make the team,” Pionk said, per NHL.com. “I think I can fit the Rangers’ style. I know coach [Alain] Vigneault likes to play an up-tempo game.”

On the surface, this just looks like a prospect that is saying all the right things, but when you consider the righty/lefty breakdown on New York’s defense, you realize Pionik might just have a chance.

Of the top seven defensemen on the roster, Shattenkirk and DeAngelo are the only righthanded shots. Ryan McDonagh, Brendan Smith, Brady Skjei, Nick Holden and Marc Staal are all lefties.

If the Rangers want to keep three right-handed blue liners on the roster, Pionk certainly has a chance to stick. It doesn’t mean he’ll play every night, but he could be a guy who sees some game action here and there.

“He has power-play potential,” Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. “He has a great mind on him. He can find the cross diagonal pass that makes you go, ‘Oh my god no … wait, how did he see him?’ He’s got that.”

Related:

Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense