Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #7: Shane Pinto

Despite just 17 NHL games under his belt, there are already tons of people believing in Shane Pinto’s ability

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

The Ottawa Senators did not have the best injury luck last season, and one of their more devastating losses was Shane Pinto. With just 12 NHL games under his belt prior, it would have been great to see what he could do in a full season. That said, as we head into 2022-23, there is a general  sense of optimism that the youngster will solidify himself as a top nine contributor. And for that potential, Pinto moves up two spots to 7th in our rankings.

Most post-draft analysis had Pinto labelled as a “reach” when he was selected 32nd overall in 2019. However, it didn’t take long to justify the Sens faith in him, as Pinto put up 28 points in 33 games for UND in his freshman season. He followed that up with 32 points in 28 games as a sophomore and was a Hobey Baker nominee. He was one of the NCAA’s best prospects when he signed an ELC in April 2021, and he even put up a respectable 7 points in 12 games to close out the 2020-21 season with the Senators.

Heading into the aforementioned 2021-22 campaign, the expectations for Pinto were sky-high — especially considering the only centre ahead of him at the time was Josh Norris as Tim Stützle was still playing left wing. Maybe a Calder Trophy win was dreaming in Technicolor, but producing 50 points seemed realistic. Just four games into the season, the worst-case scenario happened: Pinto injured his shoulder.

The injury did not look good, but he only missed the next nine games before returning on November 13th. In retrospect, the Senators (and maybe Pinto himself) were probably too optimistic about his shoulder being fully healed, as he only played 4:51 that game before leaving again due to re-aggravating the injury.

It was a devastating blow because everybody knew that his recovery was now going to be measured in months, not weeks. There was hope that he would be able to return for a few games at the end of the season, but it was probably for the best that he was not rushed back for the second time. So all he had to show for the 2021-22 season was one assist in five games played — only three of which were full contest. If there’s one silver lining from his injury (and Colin White’s), it’s that it forced Stützle to play centre; a deveplopment that has drastically strengthened the Sens’ depth down the middle.

So what do we have with Pinto at the moment? For all of the many positives, there are still some question marks. For one, he’s only played 17 career NHL games, so on the surface it does seem a bit strange that he is being treated as such a sure thing. There are lots of reasons to have faith that he will be perfect for the Senators third line, but not every prospect pans out the way you think they will, and Ottawa needs Pinto to be what they expect, otherwise, their playoff hopes take a bit of a hit. The good news is that everything that Pinto has done since being drafted shows that he has what it takes to succeed in the NHL.

His two post-draft seasons proved that he is one of the better forwards amongst his peers, as he ranked fourth in points amongst NCAA forwards from his draft class (or younger) in 2019-20 and was third in 2020-21. The only players ahead of him during that time were Alex Newhook, Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, and Dylan Holloway—pretty good company to say the least. There were better players overall during his time in the NCAA, but few accomplished what Pinto did at such a young age.

In his limited NHL action, he didn’t “wow” but he also didn’t look out of place at all. As mentioned, he had 8 points in 17 games and he has been on the ice for 10 goals for and 6 against. His shot share is low at 45.16%, but his expected goals look better at 50.62%. It’s not as if he was getting sheltered either, as his defensive zone starts per 60 (11.82) were fifth highest amongst 37 skaters on the team over the last two seasons.

His faceoff skills were lauded during his time at UND where he was well over 60%, which is unheard of. However, he’s struggled so far while winning just 38.3% of them. This shouldn’t be a big cause for concern: young players often struggle in the face-off dot and it’s one area that can be improved with a lot of practice. When you take all of that and also look at the game footage, we see a young player who hasn’t fully established himself but who looks very much like an NHLer:

Furthermore, his overall statistical profile compared to other prospects looks solid, if unspectacular:

Considering that he had improved his stock for three straight seasons beforehand, I think you can safely assume his D+3 season would have also been an improvement if he was healthy. A 53% chance of being an NHLer isn’t incredible, but that number would almost certainly be higher with better health, plus his closest full comparisons include some good players like Nik Antropov and Joel Eriksson Ek.

If we know anything about Pinto, it’s that he’s a late bloomer who could still have some untapped potential. So although most people have him pegged as a third line centre for Ottawa, there is also the possibility that he is able to take his game to the next level. The crazy thing is that they don’t even need him to do that now because of Norris and Stützle ahead of him, but I don’t think anyone would complain if he did.

Looking ahead to this season, he will most likely begin the season on the third line with Alex Formenton on left wing and Mathieu Joseph on the right side. That’s the best third line the Senators have had in years, especially if any one of those three take a step forward like they could. They will have a ton of speed together so it should be an interesting trio.

Would I put Pinto in the same group as the true “core” of this team? At this point probably not, although players like him who can score in the bottom half of the lineup are so important for winning teams, and hopefully he can provide that for a long time a la Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Antoine Vermette. It’s also never been a good idea to project conservatively with Pinto — he has a habit of blowing right through our expectations.

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