Shane Pinto Putting 41-game Suspension in Rearview Mirror With Career Year

While the Senators’ season has been anything but promising, one pleasant surprise has been the elite play of Shane Pinto despite his 41-game suspension to start the season.

Shane Pinto celebrating his goal against the Sabres

Shane Pinto celebrating his goal against the Sabres

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

There was a laundry list of reasons for Shane Pinto to have a down year.

After a contract dispute caused the then-RFA to miss all of training camp and the first eight games of the season, Pinto was handed a 41-game suspension for “activities relating to sports wagering” on Oct. 26.

The 23-year-old center was away from the team, skating on his own, until the second week of January. To say expectations were tempered would be an understatement.

Time and time again, we’ve seen how detrimental missing extended periods of game action can be. Whether it was William Nylander struggling after missing the first 28 games of the 2018-19 season due to a contract stalemate, or Pierre-Luc Dubois and Patrik Laine being hindered by quarantines during the 2020-21 season — players usually struggle when playing catch-up.

But not Pinto.

The 2019 second-round pick has hardly looked rusty since making his season debut on Jan. 21. Pinto has recorded 25 points in 32 games with Ottawa this season, averaging career-highs in points per game (0.78) and time on ice per game (17:35).

“It’s a credit to the character that he has, and the work ethic that he has on a day-to-day basis,” said Ottawa’s captain, Brady Tkachuk. “He knew once Game 41 was up, he was going to be ready to play and make an impact.”

The offensive production is nice and dandy, but Pinto’s breakout season is about so much more than just that.

“He’s just so steady,” said Tkachuk. “As good as he is producing on the offensive side of the puck, it’s the reliability that he has on the (defensive) side of things.”

Pinto has solidified himself as an all-around top-six center, demonstrating a style of play that is conducive to winning important games. The type of game that piques scouts’ interests. And earns coaches’ trust.

“In our zone, he’s usually well-positioned. He plays above the puck,” said Senators coach Jacques Martin as he pinpointed Pinto’s defensive assets.

Among forwards who have played at least 200 minutes during 5-on-5 play this season, Pinto ranks in the 96th percentile in both on-ice expected Goals-For percentage (58.57) and high danger corsi-for percentage (60.69 percentage). Mind you, Ottawa has been a below-average possession team at 5-on-5. Pinto has been a driver — ranking first leaguewide amongst forwards in 5-on-5 expected goals for percentage relative to his teammates (11.87).

Pinto’s infectious play driving has been a big reason why the team’s top line of him, Tkachuk and Drake Batherson has been so effective — with the trio posting a 58.49 5-on-5 expected goals-for percentage. In segments without Pinto, Tkachuk and Batherson have posted a 47.55 5-on-5 expected goals-for percentage.

“(Pinto) makes me focus and play more defensively, too,” Tkachuk said. “What we want is what everybody wants — to be able to play against the top guys.”

Pinto’s emergence has come on the heels of what could be a transformational summer in Ottawa. With the Senators’ young core failing to make the playoffs yet again, angst is mounting in the nation’s capital. And it seems inevitable that new GM Steve Staios will conduct roster surgery this upcoming summer.

Pinto has left little doubt that he’s going to be part of the solution in Ottawa. It’s hard to peg him as anything other than untouchable going forward.

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