15. Shane Pinto (Reader Rank: 12, Last Year: 25)
After barely making it onto last year’s list at 25th, Shane Pinto finds himself much more firmly entrenched in the Top 25 Under 25. Pinto made the largest jump of any player on the list, a full ten spots from 25th to 15th. This perfectly encapsulates the Franklin Square, New York native’s hockey career thus far: Pinto has improved his play each and every year, sometimes at a startling pace.
Coming off of a season in the USHL in which he scored 59 points in 56 games, Pinto was selected 32nd overall by the Ottawa Senators, and was the first pick of the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft. For those familiar with the narrative of the 2019 draft, Pinto was taken immediately before Arthur Kaliyev, a 50-goal scorer in the OHL, and Bobby Brink, whose production in the USHL exceeded Pinto’s to a fair degree. Both were generally considered to be better players according to publicly available rankings, and the Senators’ selection of Pinto drew the ire of many Sens fans in a way that as reminiscent of their selection of Brady Tkachuk. This looked like someone who was a safe bet to be a bottom-six player in the NHL, and not much more.
And just like with Brady, the pick so far has turned out better than expected.
Pinto committed to the University of North Dakota prior to the draft, a school which had two other Senators prospects on it: Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonny Tychonick. He began to draw attention to himself after a hot start with the Fighting Hawks, which to the surprise of many, earned him a spot on USA’s U-20 World Junior team, and more specifically, in their top six. Clearly, he impressed the staff during the exhibition games.
Continuing the momentum, Pinto proved that his spot at the top of the lineup was well-deserved, as he scored four goals and three assists in the team’s five games, with the USA ultimately losing to Finland in the quarterfinal.
He went on to complete a very successful freshman year in college, tallying 16 goals and 12 assists in 32 games.
This year Pinto’s off to a hot start in the NCHC Pod, with two goals and three assists in three games so far in his sophomore season.
(Speaking of which, NCHC.tv is offering a streaming package for all games in the pod until December 21st, for $44.95. If you’re itching for Sens hockey and can afford the subscription, then this deal is well worth it. You can watch games from each NCHC school live, or after the game’s aired. Aside from four(!) future Senators in North Dakota, you’ll also be able to get a look at Tychonick in Omaha, as well as 2018 7th round pick Luke Loheit at Minnesota-Duluth.)
Looking at Pinto’s goals in his freshman year, you’ll see that he has a penchant for capitalizing on sustained offensive zone pressure. Of his sixteen goals, including six on the power play, only two have come off the rush. His bread and butter is his positioning, be it for a one-timer, deflection, or rebound. Either way, he’s got a knack for figuring out where to be on the ice to score, and his shot is evidently good enough to make those chances count.
His positioning falls second only to his prowess in the face-off circle. The only proof you need is right here:
When it comes to faceoffs, they’re most important for special teams play, as winning one usually takes ten seconds off a penalty kill, provided you’ve got a competent defenseman behind you. In some cases, North Dakota starts Pinto on the PK, and after winning the faceoff, he’ll switch for a different player. There’s bound to be moments when you’re up by a goal with ten seconds left in the game, and a win on the draw would secure the victory. That’s just one of many situations in which someone like Pinto could come in handy for the Senators. In the clip below, freshman Riese Gaber’s nifty breakaway goal is made possible by Pinto’s faceoff win, and how about that stretch pass by Jake Sanderson?!?
His playmaking abilities aren’t half bad either, as shown in his recent game against Miami in which he contributes both on the power play and on the rush:
At the time of his being drafted, Pinto’s ceiling was considered to be that of a middle-six forward in the NHL. What’s interesting about him, however, is that he hasn’t been playing competitive hockey for very long; in fact he started when he was fifteen years of age. Three years later, he became an NHL prospect projected to go in the second round, which is pretty damn impressive when you think about it.
It shows through his play; he’s not only an intelligent two-way player, he’s been described as extremely competitive and always looking to build on his skills. To top it all off, he’s got a mean streak reminiscent of a Tkachuk: he’ll take a bite out of his opponents in a winning or losing effort, even if said opponent is a fellow Sens prospect.
Returning to his draft comparable, he was considered at or below Brink’s level, yet their first-year numbers playing in the same conference were very similar, and Pinto ended up getting the nod for NCHC Rookie of the Year. If nothing else, Sens fans should take comfort from how quickly Pinto has closed the gap on someone who was generally considered a better prospect at the time of last year’s draft.
Our next good indication of Pinto’s NHL ceiling will be in his transition to professional hockey, which is likely to happen in 2021-22. If he finds the same level of success that Josh Norris did, he’ll be well on his way to becoming a top-six player in the NHL. For now though, his goal is to help UND maintain its perch atop D1 hockey.
If he continues on this development path, Pinto could very well end up being better than even the Sens projected. He’s elite when it comes to his attention-to-detail and his compete level, and is good at pretty much everything else. By doing all of the right things on a consistent basis, he’ll be putting himself in the best position to have the points come, to him, to his line mates, and to the Senators.