Just over two weeks in and New York Rangers youngsters Neal Pionk and John Gilmour have proven capable NHL defenders so far. Long term, are these guys real deal top six defensemen or just depth NHLers?
Neal Pionk was first recalled after the injury to Marc Staal against the Predators. Pionk, who is a much-needed right-handed shot to the Rangers corps, has provided plenty of skating ability and flashes of two-way play. In six games Pionk has only registered one assist but looks comfortable on the blue line in the offensive zone. Pionk starts well over 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone but only carries a 49.5 percent corsi.
As it stands, Pionk is a significant upgrade over Staal or the former Ranger Nick Holden on the right side, but is he a long-term solution to the blue line woes?
At 5-foot-11 and only 190 pounds, Pionk is not quite the ideal size for an NHL defenseman and also doesn’t carry the same offensive ability of let’s say Kevin Shattenkirk or even Tony DeAngelo. But the kid can skate for days, and what he lacks in physical play, he certainly makes up with positioning and hockey IQ.
Only time will tell what Pionk’s ceiling is, but to me, Pionk is no more than the fifth defenseman who can maybe quarterback a second power-play unit. He’s shown well enough to be a regular NHL defenseman in this small sample size.
John Gilmour, on the other hand, is pure offense. The kid is lights out with his one-timer, evidenced by his first NHL goal.
JOHN GILMOUR TALLIES HIS FIRST CAREER GOAL! pic.twitter.com/EUJgB0O3p6
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) February 14, 2018
At the NCAA level, Gilmour registered 22 goals in his four-year career with Providence while winning a National Title in 2015. At the AHL level, Gilmour has continued his offensive success, registering six tallies as a rookie and already at six this season through half as many games. He’s already built on his assist total as well, recording 19 his rookie campaign, and is up to 20 already this AHL season. Gilmour was also an AHL All-Star this season.
Gilmour has started a whopping 70 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, evidence that Alain Vigneault has some hockey knowledge. He has turned those starts into a 53 percent Corsi rating. Very good for his six-game sample size, but that number is inflated due to his lack of minutes (17:00 a night) and his amazing amount of offensive zone starts.
The trouble for Gilmour lies in his defensive ability.
Much like Pionk, Gilmour is undersized at 6-foot and 190 pounds, and his strengths are his skating and hockey IQ which he uses to be in good positioning without letting stronger players overrun him. Gilmour will still need to establish himself as a reliable player in his zone before he can become an NHL regular.
Gilmour was -39 in his rookie season with the Pack and is currently -15 in the AHL. Yes, these WolfPack teams have been horrendous and very young, but for folks who think he may be able to step right in next season may have to think again.
Gilmour seems more of an AHL/NHL floater, someone who can be called upon in the big leagues to help a power play but may never find a solid niche as an everyday player. But Gilmour has two influential defensive coaches in the AHL in Keith McCambridge and Joey Mormina, both who had long minor league pro careers, things most definitely could turn around quickly.
It’s easy to see why someone like Pionk or Gilmour would have immediate success after a recall.
First NHL games, first impressions at the big league level, they’re going to throw everything they have towards putting together A+ games. Unfortunately, hockey is a game of mistakes, and for long-term success in this league, one has to be able to recover from those mistakes. This is what can be so difficult for guys like Pionk and Gilmour due to their limited physical play.
These players are more than just a flash in the pan and can be capable, solid NHLers. But don’t expect to see these names on a Norris Trophy Ballot anytime soon.