Senators’ Strategic Selection of Shane Pinto

The 2019 NHL Draft was an important one for the Ottawa Senators. After a terrible season, the team needed some big prospects who could be important parts of the team’s future. However, once the dust had settled and the draft had come to a close, onlookers were more than a little confused with Ottawa’s selections, most of all with the 32nd pick, Shane Pinto.

Shane Pinto Ottawa Senators Draft
Shane Pinto, Ottawa Senators, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Pinto, the 28th best North American prospect according to the Central Scouting Bureau, was admittedly a slight reach for the Senators to take with the first pick in the second round. However, it looked all that much worse with first-round leftovers Arthur Kaliyev, Bobby Brink and Raphael Lavoie still waiting to hear their names called.

Related: Senators Reach for Future in 2019 Draft

But general manager Pierre Dorion had a plan for the future, and for it to work, he needed Pinto. The skills he offers are just what Ottawa needs at this moment. He may not be the flashiest or most exciting player, but as Dorion and the Senators progress down their rebuild, Pinto could be a piece that pushes the team from bottom feeder to contender by providing reliable scoring from a depth role.

Filling a Need

Ottawa came into the 2019 draft with some very specific needs: a right-handed defenseman, a top-end goaltending prospect, and depth at center. With their first three selections – one first- and two second-rounders – they had filled each of those roles with top prospects.

With the first pick, Dorion addressed the most pressing need, which was a right-handed shooting defender. The draft board had quickly filled up with top defenders, and though some intriguing forwards were still available, like Ryan Suzuki and Jakob Pelletier, Dorion knew it would be now or never to get a defender. So, with the 19th pick, the Senators selected Lassi Thomson, the best right-handed shot available.

Lassi Thomson Kelowna Rockets
Lassi Thomson of the Kelowna Rockets (Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets)

At the end of the first round, several highly-touted wingers were still available. Kaliyev, Brink and Lavoie, while expected to be drafted in the first round, had still not been selected by day two. However, Dorion realized that his team’s biggest need was at center, which had been thinned significantly after losing Matt Duchene. So, the Senators took Pinto 32nd overall, despite several mock drafts ranking him much later in the second round. Not even Pinto expected to go so early.

“Last night was pretty mentally draining. It’s very relieving right now. I had an idea I was going in the second round, but not the first pick.’’

Shane Pinto after being selected 32nd overall by Ottawa (from ‘LI’s Shane Pinto, Robert Mastrosimone, Marshall Warren selected on second day of NHL draft,’ Newsday – 6/24/19)

Kaliyev and Brink were taken back to back after Ottawa’s selection, but Lavoie was still available after Dorion swung a deal to acquire the 37th pick from the Carolina Hurricanes. But with several top wingers in the system, the Senators went for their last pressing need and grabbed Danish goalie Mads Sogaard, while Lavoie went 38th to the Edmonton Oilers.

Related: Senators Needed to Snag Sogaard

When compared to the prospects left on the board, the Senators’ first three picks seem like a downgrade, most of all Pinto. But when compared to Dorion’s draft record, the selection was par for the course. In his three years at the helm, Dorion has shown a penchant towards big forwards early in the draft: Brady Tkachuk (4th in 2018), Logan Brown (11th in 2016), and Shane Bowers (28th in 2017) all stand above 6-foot-2, and all were taken in the first round.

Shane Pinto of the Lincoln Stars
Shane Pinto of the Lincoln Stars (courtesy USHL)

Pinto fits in perfectly with those players, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing nearly 200 pounds at 18 years old. He also has high-end offensive talent, much like the former picks. In 56 games in the USHL, he had scored 28 goals and 59 points, top among all rookies and thirteenth among all players in 2018-19. Then, in the playoffs, he scored four goals and nine points in six games. Even more impressive is half of his points were scored with the league-worst Lincoln Stars, who provided little support for him.

However, with several top prospects left over from the first round, many have argued that the Senators should have taken someone else. It’s a fair argument, but Ottawa needed depth at center. The best teams in the NHL have reliable depth centers that provide stability in the lineup – just look at the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins, who had former third-overall selection, Jordan Staal, holding down the third line. A talented depth center like Pinto could significantly speed up the Senators’ rebuild.

Early Concerns

If just looking at Pinto’s size and stats, there’s no question he would have been regarded higher come the draft. Yet there are other aspects to his game that have caused scouts to question his long-term potential, which pushed him down their lists. It also is concerning that there is no unanimity among scouts as to which skills need developing.

Shane Pinto Ottawa Senators Draft
Shane Pinto had no idea he would be drafted so early (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

According to Pinto, his greatest on-ice strength is not his shot, but his vision. “I think the game pretty well,” he said to Neutral Zone. “I think I can anticipate certain things and have pretty good hockey IQ.” Yet, according to Dustin Braaksma of Elite Prospects, vision is one of Pinto’s weaker elements and he lacks the hockey sense to be a center at the highest level.

“It takes a little long for him to see plays develop and by then, the lane’s closed off or the situation is closed off, and then he relies on his shot. I think it’s just his ability to process decisions quickly.”

Dustin Braaksma on The Pipeline Show, June 15

Pinto’s physicality is another aspect that has received both praise and critique. Some saw Pinto using his size well in front of the net and winning battles with his hands, making him a difficult player to handle, while also being an effective two-way player. Others have seen him not using his size to his full potential and have pointed to weaknesses in his defensive game and back-checking.

What’s not in question is his work ethic. He’s been refereed to as a ‘north-south player’, praising his strong skating. Strangely, Pinto is most critical of his skating, although that could be seen as more a side effect of his work ethic. It’s also agreed that Pinto is still a few years away from making any sort of impact at the professional level. Being a multi-sport athlete, he’s only been fully dedicated to hockey for three or four years and could result in a breakout season in the near future.

Building a Tightly-Knit Team

Last June, the Senators were rocked by headlines after news broke of a dispute between Erik Karlsson’s wife and Mike Hoffman’s girlfriend. The result was the departure of two of the team’s most talented players, and the GM went on record claiming that the dressing room was broken. Five months later, Matt Duchene and Chris Wideman, among others, were caught trash-talking one of their coaches in an Uber. Both of those players were also eventually moved.

“Our dressing room was broken. We have to have a dressing room that wants to win together…Key components for us moving forward are character, leadership, accountability.”

Pierre Dorion after trading away Hoffman

Now, Dorion is paying very close attention to the character of a player, especially at the draft. More so than any stat or concern, Pinto’s character is what really sold the Senators. On top of being a tireless worker, he’s been described as a character guy in the dressing room. He has also committed to attend the University of North Dakota, where Johnny Tychonik and Jacob Bernard-Docker, both 2018 Senators’ picks, currently play.

With Pinto joining two of Ottawa’s top prospects, the hope is that a strong bond in college will translate well to the professional ranks. They will have a history together that few teammates in the NHL are privileged to experience. It also gives Dorion and the Senators the opportunity to see if the players gel, and address potential issues before they become national headlines.

Jacob Bernard-Docker of the Okotoks Oilers
Jacob Bernard-Docker, playing for the Okotoks Oilers before joining North Dakota (courtesy AJHL)

Dorion seems to know what he’s doing. With the Senators’ development camp wrapping up, Pinto has turned a few heads. He meshed very well on a team featuring Tychonik, Thomson, and Rudolfs Balcers, but looked the best when centring Drake Batherson during the intrasquad tournament, which Pinto’s team won. Yet the first thing Bob Janecyk mentioned when asked about their 2019 picks was that Pinto is a character kid.

So don’t fret, Senators’ fans. Pinto may not be Kaliyev or Brink, but for the Senators, that’s a good thing. Every team needs depth and Pinto will hopefully provide that down the road. Dorion is enacting a carefully planned strategy that will hopefully result in a return to the team’s 2016-17 form, or better yet, a future championship.