Welcome back to the latest iteration of our Year in Review feature, where we re-visit the past season for key members of the Ottawa Senators. Here are the players we’ve profiled previously:
Evgeni Dadonov (oops, all berries!)
Today we look at the relatively small sample size of Shane Pinto’s NHL career to date and his much more substantial performance with the University of North Dakota in 2021. Whether you refer to him as the bean or the horse, you probably enjoyed his sophomore season and his debut performances in Ottawa.
By the Numbers:
Pinto silenced some of the draft day skeptics with a strong freshman season with the Fighting Hawks but needed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump to prove himself more than a one-trick pony (pun intended). It pleases me to report that not only did Pinto live up to his freshman campaign, he outdid himself in many categories and had one of the best seasons of all the sophomores in division-one hockey in 2021. Among second-year students, Pinto ranked second in goals at 15 (and second in goals per game), third in points with 32, and fourth in shots with 94. If you are at all familiar with Pinto’s player profile then it should come as no surprise that he had the best season at the faceoff dot of any sophomore in 2021.
Pinto also reined in some of his disciplinary issues that had previously given some pause, taking just two minor penalties this past season. He also led the Fighting Hawks in individual goals scored and came third among his teammates in total points (behind two seniors). For good measure, Pinto also led his team in individual shots. Along with a couple other notable Sens prospects, Pinto contributed to what felt like the nightly highlight reel coming out of UND:
Shane Pinto's shot was tipped in to keep UND's NCHC Frozen Faceoff tournament alive on Monday night. Shortly after, Jake Sanderson had a secondary assist on the OT-winner.— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) March 16, 2021
UND faces off against St Cloud State tonight for the championship #GoSensGopic.twitter.com/4zNZMfdFcT
While we need to bear in mind the limited sample size available for Pinto’s NHL performance, we do have some promising numbers to work with. It doesn’t come with any guarantees for next season, but I think it helps that Pinto got his first NHL goal under his belt, with six assists and 11 shots along the way in 12 NHL games. Those disciplinary issues did creep up again with five minors taken (to two drawn). You have to love that +4 turnover differential though and while he didn’t quite enjoy the same dominance at the dot that he had at the collegiate level, Pinto went a respectable 40% against much more experienced opponents (and most of those struggles occurred during Ottawa’s four-game miniseries against Vancouver (Pinto fared much better against other teams)).
In terms of fancy numbers, Pinto didn’t excel by measures like Corsi or Fenwick although I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over that just yet. In terms of expected goals, he did slightly better, just under 50% in five-on-five expected goals with numbers close to Colin White (noted favourite of yours truly). Like a lot of Senators down the stretch, Pinto rode the fabled inflated PDO bubble (unusually high on-ice shooting- and save-percentage) so he could look relatively cool next time he plays in the NHL if the pendulum swings back the other way for the team. Don’t panic if the staff send him to Belleville!
Story of the Season:
After 28 impressive games in the NCAA in 2021 in which he earned the honours of NCHC player of the year, forward of the year, and defensive forward of the year, Pinto signed his entry level contract with the Senators and notched his first point in his first NHL game on April 17th. He scored his first NHL goal on May 5th (Pinto also set a high of four shots that game):
Unlike a lot of young forwards, the coaching staff in Ottawa didn’t especially shelter Pinto and used him more in the role we expect him to grow into long-term. Pinto lined up primarily with noted shut-down wingers Alex Formenton and Connor Brown if that gives you any indication of the intended path ahead for Pinto in Ottawa. It bodes well for Pinto that DJ Smith let the rookie play at his natural centre position when you consider how much the head coach values defence from his pivots. This line naturally saw predominantly defensive deployment from Smith, and much like Formenton, Pinto got almost immediate minutes on the penalty kill (in case you doubted how strongly the organization emphasizes systemic play in Belleville and North Dakota). Towards the end of the season, the staff did reward Pinto with some shifts on the second powerplay unit.
The Senators will have this season and next of ELC service from Pinto before they have to make any serious decisions about his long-term role with the team. As noted above, the team seem to like the idea of Pinto as a defensively-sound centre with some added offensive upside and will try to carve that niche out for him. Despite an NHL audition to close out 2021, we can expect some time in Belleville for Pinto this year depending how Ottawa rounds out their roster at camp. AHL service time certainly wouldn’t hurt Pinto’s development (see Norris, Joshua).
As a natural centre, Pinto would go into this season behind Norris on the depth chart and vying with White and Chris Tierney for those second- and third-line minutes along with penalty kill responsibilities. If for whatever reason Pinto struggles to get his skates under him, he could see time on the wing below Drake Batherson on the depth chart and taking on some of those Connor Brown minutes as a primarily d-zone winger (similar to the trajectory we’ve seen from White).
It feels like each season we get a lot more confident that the Sens have found a bonafide NHL centre in Pinto. He seems destined to play a meaningful role with this team for years to come, and he has refined a lot of the details of his game already in just two seasons.
As always, I want to note that these articles would not be possible without resources like naturalstattrick and for the NCAA numbers collegehockeyinc (thank you Colin!). Stay tuned for our next instalment tomorrow!