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Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #9: Shane Pinto

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The team’s most exciting prospect from the 2019 draft has “reached” the upper echelon of our annual series

NHL: APR 26 Canucks at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

#9: Shane Pinto (Reader Rank: #7, Last Year: #15)

After making his debut in our Top 25 Under 25 two years ago at 25th, Shane Pinto jumped up ten spots to 15th on last year’s list. Following a strong sophomore season with the University of North Dakota, the 6’3 right-handed centre moves up yet another six spots to 9th. It’s pretty incredible to think that five years ago, Pinto wasn’t even considering professional hockey as a viable career path.

Ever since being selected 32nd overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Pinto’s story has revolved around a development curve that is, frankly, absolutely insane. From scoring 7 points in 5 games as Team USA’s first-line centre at the World Juniors to being a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award this past season after scoring 32 points in 28 games with UND, Pinto has gone from a player projected by many to be selected in the late 2nd/early 3rd round, to someone that the Sens are hoping will be a major piece of their future.

At the time he was drafted, scouts generally agreed that his shot was his best offensive weapon, and that hasn’t changed. UND feasted on their competition by having Pinto set up at the left circle for devastating one-timers, but one of my favourite plays of his is the following, in which he’s able to quickly go from backhand to forehand while moving across the slot, catching the entirety of the defending team off guard.

One thing I noticed in watching his goals last season was that the overwhelming majority of them came off of sustained offensive zone pressure, as opposed to off the rush. This past season gave us a similar story, with 7 of his 15 goals being power-play goals. You could look at this and call in to question his ability to create rush offense, but the fact that Pinto led his team in shots on goal, and was the most dominant player in the faceoff circle this past year, could also be an indicator of just how much time his team spends in the offensive zone while he’s on the ice.

Below is a highlight video of Pinto’s first NHL game and there’s lots to dig into here regarding his two-way game. Pay attention to the following timestamps in the compilation below, provided by the legendary @SensProspects:

  • 1:15 - What better way to start your NHL career than to have it be blessed by Tim Stützle, and by extension, Alex Trebek?
  • 2:37 - Pour one out for the lowly Habs fans by admiring one of Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s trademark “crisp passes” right to Pinto.
  • 6:37 - Pinto breaks up yet another pass, and creates a chance for Brady Tkachuk. Mere seconds after the Habs break out of the zone, a furious backcheck from Pinto creates a 2-on-1 for Ottawa.
  • 6:57 - A defensive zone faceoff win leads to an empty-net goal for Nikita Zaitsev. If that’s a more important game, and your team’s up by just one goal, we’re talking about that one play for a long time.

There’s a lot to like from that one game, from his skating to his defensive awareness, as well as his trademark work ethic. He went on to score 7 points in 12 games to close out the 2020-21 season. While we should be wary of reading too heavily into a twelve-game sample, there was ample evidence of how his success in the NCAA might translate at the NHL level.

There’s his first NHL goal, which he scores by first supporting Stützle along the boards, and quickly moving to a high-danger area once the puck reaches the point. The puck then Zubs off of Zub’s stick, and Zub after, Pinto’s the only one available to get to the loose puck.

One of his prettier assists came in the famous Stützle hat-trick game against Winnipeg. Here, a Jets turnover creates an opportunity, and Pinto flawlessly executes a one-touch pass between Olle Alsing and Connor Brown, the latter quickly moves the puck to Stützle to finish off the play.

In fact, the trio of Pinto, Stützle, and Brown was one of the team’s most successful down the stretch, with a +2 goal differential at even strength, and a 5-on-5 expected goals share of 65.36%. If the Senators choose to hold on to their surplus of picks and prospects and decide not to risk trading for a top-six centre, Pinto may be called upon to play key NHL minutes as early as next season — and he seems to have a pair of linemates who could form a decent second line behind Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson.

Pinto remains a bit of a wildcard, especially as for where he sits in the Sens’ system on the whole. He’s a pretty safe bet to be an everyday NHLer, he’s arguably ready for the league right now, but there’s enough upside to give management pause; and to make fans a bit giddy about his potential. There’ll come a point in time when Pinto reaches his prime and stops improving, but nobody knows when that’ll be, and every day that he keeps getting better is a good day for the Sens and their fans.