It happened so late in the 2019-2020 season, many didn’t even really notice. After a very quiet rookie campaign in the AHL, Brian Pinho seemingly found the light switch at the very tail end of the season. He finished the last few games of the regular season in impressive fashion and then continued his surge in the Bears first round series against Bridgeport, eventually knocking home the series winner. The awakening had just begun.
Pinho continued his uptick in play during the Capitals 2019 development camp and impressed Bears and Capitals coaches in the Capitals annual prospect tournament held last September in Nashville.
#ALLCAPS strike first with a goal from #CapsProspect Brian Pinho. Shot was setup with a nice cross-ice feed from @con91mcmichael pic.twitter.com/wYyeBI9UDC
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) September 7, 2019
Pinho rolled into the 2019 Capitals training camp with significant momentum and turned in another impressive showing, making it until the final cut-down day. Pinho was primed for his sophomore campaign in Hershey.
Pinho’s rookie season left little inkling that he would turn into an offensive threat. He potted Just four goals and added eight assists for 12 points in 73 games, going long stretches without posting any points and really was not an offensive factor at all. Pinho was more of a role player, contributing more on the penalty kill than on the offensive end.
The Providence College product scored one goal and had one assists in eight Calder Cup playoff games. But the one goal was an important one. The tally was an overtime game-winner in the fifth and deciding game at Bridgeport that sent Hershey into the second round.
#CapsProspect Brian Pinho scores the series winner. pic.twitter.com/I2ux51LxIJ
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) April 28, 2019
Combining his regular season and playoff totals, Pinho amassed 14 points in 81 games during his rookie campaign.
During the offseason, the Bears re-signed Mike Sgarbossa and added center Philippe Maillet in free agency to be the team’s top two centers. Fellow second year center Garrett Pilon had a better rookie year and was also ahead of Pinho on the center depth chart heading into this season. These factors seemingly left Pinho in a battle with Chris McCarthy for the fourth line center role. The Providence grad had other ideas and let his play on the ice do the talking.
Pinho entered his second professional season with an uncertain role. He was coming off of a less than stellar rookie season with the Hershey Bears and was in a position where he had to earn his playing time. Pinho did just that. He has raised his game to another level this season, and has developed into an offensive weapon. The North Andover, Massachusetts native played his way into a key role with the Bears.
Pinho opened this season by netting a goal, a game-winner at Laval, and dishing out four assists in October. The five points were nearly half of his regular season total from last season.
Brian Pinho with his first of the season, give the Bears their first lead of the game. Bears lead 3-2 with 14;00 left in regulation. pic.twitter.com/58shTz3vya
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) October 20, 2019
November started out well for Pinho as he recorded an assist at Springfield on November 1 and then potted another game winner against Providence on November 2. Then, Pinho went cold. He went nine games without a point as his struggles mirrored the team’s.
#CapsProspect Brian Pinho with his second goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/E6MUq1cqem
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) November 3, 2019
A goal against Providence on the night before Thanksgiving would be a springboard for a strong December for Pinho. He tallied three goals and added four assists for seven points in the month. A key to his success was a switch to the right wing on a line with Maillet and Matt Moulson. The trio has been a force for the Bears. Moulson had seven goals in December and Maillet contributed six points in the month.
Pinho and his linemates have continued their production in January. Pinho put up six goals and three assists and Maillet had 11 points and Moulson seven in the month. That is 27 points in 11 January games for the trio. That production is a major reason for Hershey’s rise to the top of the Atlantic Division.
#CapsProspect Brian Pinho scores his third goal of the weekend to give the Bears an early 1-0 lead. He has 9g, 10 in 36 games. pic.twitter.com/SXPd58tkAz
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) January 5, 2020
Pinho finished his sophomore campaign with 20 goals and 17 assists in just 62 games before the COVID pause occurred. That was good enough for second overall in team goals and fourth overall in team points.
Defensively, Pinho remains one of the team’s top defensive forwards and is one of Hershey’s top penalty killers. He was a big reason that unit was second-best in the American Hockey League with a kill percentage of 87.3%. He also had a team-high three shorthanded goals for a Bears team that was 37-18-3-4, just one point behind first place Providence in the Atlantic Division. Now, he has an offensive game to match his defensive smarts.
MAKING THE LEAP
The Capitals selected Pinho with the 174th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. The 6’-1”, right handed forward signed a two-year entry-level contract on April 4, 2018 for $833,750 average annual value (AAV). He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the playoffs.
The series-winning goal against Bridgeport in the 2019 post season (here) came at the end of a game in which he was possibly the best Bear, offensively. Following that goal, Pinho essentially picked up where he left off for the 2019-2020 season, as he became an offensive leader and leader on the Bears penalty kill.
For Pinho, 25, time is already something to consider with His development, but the late 2019 season uptick with Hershey and his 2019-2020 campaign are an encouraging sign. His hockey smarts are sufficient and he has the skillset to potentially crack a bottom six roll with Washington, if his game continues to improve.
As noted earlier, Pinho’s current contract expires at the end of this season. It’s very likely the Capitals will try to ink him to a 1-2 year deal. The coming season will be critical in his development for the potential of reaching the next level.
By Jon Sorensen
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