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Pinto skates with Senators, will make debut on Jan. 21

Shane Pinto Shane Pinto - The Canadian Press

Shane Pinto skated with the Ottawa Senators Friday, joining the team for the first time since receiving his 41-game suspension for violating the league's gambling rules.

After the skate, Senators interim head coach Jacques Martin confirmed Pinto will make his season debut when he becomes eligible to return on Jan. 21 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“He may need some time for the adjustment of not just practicing but playing games," Martin said. "He’s a young player with a lot of energy... It takes a little while for them to get the right timing once you get into the game competition.”

Pinto remains a restricted free agent but TSN Hockey Insider Chris Johnston reported earlier this week Pinto is expected to sign a contract before Jan. 21.

"He's about to ramp things up here a little bit more. Even already, he's been in Ottawa for a number of weeks skating," Johnston said on Insider Trading. "And as the Senators get back from the road trip this week, the plan is to have him rejoin the team at practice. He doesn't need to have his contract done in order to be eligible to do that, and so he'll get a chance to take some reps with his teammates and try to take that conditioning to another level.

"At some point before Jan. 21 in Philadelphia – when he's eligible to return – he will sign that deal. It does sound like a formality that, once the Sens make some roster moves, they'll be able to sign him and shouldn't be an issue."

Pinto filled in as a partner to Jacob Bernard-Docker during Friday's skate to form a fourth defence pairing. 

The league announced the suspension to Pinto for “activities related to sports wagering” in October, adding its adding its investigation found no evidence that Pinto made any wagers on NHL games. Pinto had previously missed the first games of the Senators season while unsigned. 

Pinto spoke publicly on the suspension for the first time Friday, admitting he was caught off-guard by it.

“It broke my heart," Pinto said. "Honestly, I care about this game so much. I put so much time and effort into it and just to kind of get it taken away from you for that long, it’s just tough to hear. You’re in shock at first.”

Postmedia hockey columnist Bruce Garrioch reported the Senators had rescinded all previous contract offers to Pinto upon the suspension. His qualifying offer, issued to retain his rights in June, is still available at $874,125.

The 22-year-old centre scored 20 goals and tallied 35 points in 82 games last season, his first full campaign in the NHL.

The centre should be a welcome boost to the Senators, who return home after a winless five-game road trip.