March 28, 2023

Shane Pinto is off to a remarkable start with the Ottawa Senators, becoming the first rookie in franchise history to score in five consecutive games. He didn’t find the back of the net in his last appearance but remains a candidate for the Calder Trophy after producing an impressive performance.

Pinto’s form is clear for all to see. His six points (five goals, one assist) in seven games place him third in rookie scoring behind Calen Addison and Matty Beniers, with Kent Johnson and Cole Perfetti. He also ranks sixth on the Sens in expected goals, ahead of headline summer arrival Claude Giroux.

Shane Pinto Ottawa Senators
Shane Pinto, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The 21-year-old arrived at training camp with a point to prove. He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury and returned this preseason ready to battle for a spot in head coach D.J. Smith’s lineup. Just three weeks into the campaign, his situation is now very different.

Chemistry: The Secret to Shane Pinto’s Early Success

Pinto has spent most of the season on the third line with Tyler Motte and Matthieu Joseph. Through almost 59 minutes, they have a 56 percent share of expected goals and an 80 percent share of goals scored. In other words, the ice tilts in the Senators’ favour when Pinto, Motte, and Joseph are on it.

Related: Senators’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Offence Clicks, Forsberg Shines & More

“I think a lot of the credit has to go to Pints, you see how well he’s played,” an impressed Smith told Sportsnet last month. “But also a guy like Motte, who just knows how to play the right way. And then Joe’s got all that speed. So, it is comforting for sure. They’re the line that’s had the most success five-on-five because, you know, they’re playing the right way. So far, they’ve played the right way the most and the longest and they’ve had the most chances.”

While most of Pinto’s production has resulted from smart combination plays, his most impressive goal of the season came in the Senators’ 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday (Oct. 25). He robbed Jani Hakanpaa of the puck in the neutral zone before racing into the offensive zone and unleashing a quick shot into the top corner:

Whether it’s at five-on-five or five-on-four, Pinto looks at ease and is on course to enjoy a successful first full season in the NHL.

Josh Norris’ Injury Presents Opportunity For Pinto

It’s only a matter of time before Pinto is handed an opportunity to centre Alex DeBrincat and Giroux on the second line, not least because Derick Brassard isn’t a long-term solution in the top six. Brassard inked a one-year deal to be a fringe forward, not a second-line centre.

Meanwhile, Pinto had played his way into contention for top-six deployment before Norris was injured. He was exceptional to start the season and has been a key contributor on the second power-play unit. The former University of North Dakota star ticks every box for a shot in an elevated role.

Shane Pinto University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Shane Pinto, University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (Russell Hones-UND Athletics)

Finally, the Sens should roll the dice on placing Pinto on the second line because they have nothing to lose. While the franchise is determined to re-enter the playoff picture soon, it won’t be a disaster if they miss the cut this season. Instead, they have an opportunity to hand difficult assignments to their top prospect while attempting to disrupt the postseason landscape.

Norris’ injury is a significant blow, but it has also opened the door for Pinto to play an important role early in his career. It’s time to hand him the reigns.   

Looking Ahead for Pinto & the Senators

The Senators ended their five-game homestand with a 4-2 loss to the Wild on Thursday (Oct. 27), dropping their record on the season to 4-3-0. They will return to the ice on Saturday (Oct. 29) in Miami versus the Florida Panthers before visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning two days later. After that, they return home to face the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 3. We’ll soon find out if the coaching staff agrees that Pinto should be in the top six.

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