Senators Burning Questions: Is Shane Pinto Ready for the NHL?

Shane Pinto has had an incredible journey to the NHL.

He started playing competitively five years ago and quickly turned into one of the Ottawa Senators’ bright young stars. In that time, he dominated the United States Hockey League (USHL), was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, took home two National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) awards for player and defensive player of the year, and represented Team USA at the World Junior Championship. Now, he’s heading into the 2021-22 season with pressure on his shoulders to be the team’s No. 2 centre. Will he be ready?

Shane Pinto’s First Impressions

Selected 32nd overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the 20-year-old rookie centre, who turns 21 in November, made noise in his first season as a Senator. He joined the lineup after his season with the University of North Dakota (UND) ended and was driving plays in the offensive zone, and frankly, he made the players around him better. In 12 games, he recorded seven points while fitting in seamlessly alongside Connor Brown and Tim Stützle on the second line.

Related: Senators 2021-22 Prospect Pyramid

Shane Pinto Ottawa Senators Draft
Shane Pinto was drafted by the Ottawa Senators 32nd overall in 2019 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Chris Tierney’s limited offensive upside and the absence of Colin White for the next four to six months with a shoulder injury, there’s no better option than Pinto. To clarify, when Stützle and Brown played with him, the two wingers had a five-on-five expected goals share of 65 percent. Without him, they were at 20 percent.

This season, he will face a taller order, one that many players find difficult. His minutes will increase significantly, and, as we’ve seen throughout the preseason, those will come on the power play and penalty kill, too.

Is Pinto Ready for the NHL?

The short answer is: yes. Pinto has already shown he can play and produce in the league, albeit in only 12 games. As head coach D.J. Smith alluded to in a press conference, Pinto brings speed and power, two traits that go a long way in becoming a dominant centreman.

A comparison to Patrice Bergeron this early (really early) might raise some eyebrows, but you can see what Smith is referring to. Bergeron, known for many great things but mostly his faceoffs; an area that Pinto will have to improve on. 

With a 41 percent success rate in the faceoff circle last season, Pinto needs time for adjustment, especially if he faces some of the NHL’s best centres night in and night out. However, the Senators’ chief amateur scout, Trent Mann, has confidence that Pinto will develop a more well-rounded game this season. 

“You know, he’s always bugging – in a positive way. Development coaches and strength coaches, he wants to be better in all those areas. So, knowing Shane, he has done his homework, and he will know certain tendencies of players he played against. And he’ll continue to learn. Obviously, there’s many players he didn’t play against last year because of the way the divisions were set up. He’ll continue to learn, and pound away. He’s a bright kid. He understands where he is at with his path, and the experience he lacks. But the work ethic is going to be there and he’ll gain experience over time and learn tendencies of centres he goes up against and even linesmen and how they drop the puck. He’s detail-oriented and will continue to get better.”

– Trent Mann

Pinto is making it difficult for management to cut him from the roster by looking so good at camp, as Smith said. The coach has put Pinto in just about every situation during the preseason, so he has confidence in him to excel in the NHL full-time this season. He doesn’t have to just score because he brings so much else to the table. Whether or not he is up to the challenge remains to be seen, but all signs point to him being ready.

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