Welcome to the first of a three-part series that looks back on the 2019-20 season for the Sens' top prospects. Kicking us off are three forwards who each took big steps in their development over the last year.
Coming off a torn labrum that required season-ending shoulder surgery, Senators fans hadn't seen Josh Norris in game-action since the 2019 World Junior Championships. After a handful of rookie tournament and NHL exhibition games, he made his pro debut with the Belleville Senators on October 5th against the Toronto Marlies.
After going pointless in his first 4 AHL games, Norris broke through with a 3-point performance, including his first goal, on October 19th against Providence. From that game on, it's hard to imagine how Josh Norris' rookie pro season could have gone any better.
That game against Providence started a 5-game point streak for the rookie centreman, one of six point-streaks of at least 3 games that he would enjoy throughout the season. And he would never again go 4 games without a point.
Norris led Belleville in almost every offensive category: points (61), goals (31), power-play goals (10), and shots (160). He finished first among AHL rookies in goals and points, third among all AHL players in goals, and fourth among AHLers in points. It was well-earned when he was recalled by Ottawa to make his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens on February 22nd.
With the remainder of the AHL season cancelled, Norris was recently named to the 2019-20 AHL all-rookie team and was announced as a member of the AHL first all-star team - both incredible achievements. It's safe to say that no one should be surprised if even more hardware is in store for him down the road.
When Shane Pinto was the first player selected in the second round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, news quickly spread that he was committed to the UND Fighting Hawks to play college hockey. With fellow Ottawa draft picks Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonny Tychonick already at UND, fans knew he was headed to one of the best development programs in the NCAA. Few, however, predicted the levels of success that Pinto would achieve over the next ten months.
A top-line player and top scorer for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. NCHC Rookie of the Year honours. A near record-setting win rate at the faceoff circle. Shane Pinto was becoming a household name among Sens fans.
Pinto's college career got off to a hot start. On October 11th he scored just 8 minutes into his first game - it was the Fighting Hawks' first goal of the season, and it was the eventual game-winner. A 5-game point-streak ensued, a feat he eclipsed later in the season with a 9-game streak.
Pinto's accolades rolled in throughout the season. 3-time NCHC rookie of the week. Team USA player of the game in their tournament opener against Team Canada. Member of the NCHC all-rookie team. He capped it off by scoring in overtime on February 29th to give the Fighting Hawks the Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC's regular-season champion.
Pinto informed the Senators in April that he intends to return to UND for his sophomore year next season. The Fighting Hawks are already looking like contenders for the NCAA title, and Shane Pinto will have to play an even bigger role to take them there.
It's uncommon to see a new career-high in goals during a player's first pro season. If things hadn't ended early due to COVID-19, Alex Formenton would have found himself among a select group who've achieved this. With 27 goals, good for second among AHL rookies league-wide, he was on pace to clip his previous mark of 29 goals, set with the OHL's London Knights in 2017-18.
Like Pinto, Formenton scored his team's first goal of the season - Belleville's only goal in a 4-1 loss to Toronto on October 5th. However, it would be his only goal in October. A bit of a speed-wobble ensued over the next dozen games, where Formenton only lit the lamp in two contests.
On November 9th, he kicked off a 3-game point-streak and things snowballed from there. Formenton would finish with 8 goals in November alone. When fellow rookie sensation Josh Norris was unavailable to play in the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic, Formenton went in his place. Known for his exceptional speed, he showcased his wheels in a dominant performance at the fastest-skater event.
Formenton went on to record five point-streaks of at least 3 games throughout the season, finishing second on the team in goals (27) and third in points (53). A skilled penalty killer and responsible defensive forward, he led Belleville in shorthanded points (6) and empty-net goals (5). Formenton also led the team in penalty minutes (65), highlighting the feisty and often overlooked part of his game.
To top it all off, Formenton joined teammate Josh Norris as one of just three forwards on the 2019-20 AHL all-rookie team With an amazing rookie pro season behind him, Formenton will once-again be pushing for a full-time spot with Ottawa when the 2020-21 training camp begins.
Honourable mentions: Logan Brown, Johnny Gruden, Mark Kastelic
Keep an eye out for the next year in review post that will recap Ottawa's top defensive prospects.