Francesco Pinelli is projected to go in the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and he slots right in as a mid-rounder in TWC’s consolidated draft rankings. He put up decent numbers as a rookie in the OHL last year. With the OHL shuttered this season, Pinelli went across the pond to play against men in the AlpsHL, a Central European League with teams from Austria, Slovenia, and Italy.
While he only got into 13 games, he was nearly a point-per-game player and was fourth on his team in points-per-game. Compared to a cross between Johnny Gaudreau and Joe Pavelski, Pinelli could be an incredible player for any team that selects him.
Who is Francesco Pinelli?
Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, Pinelli played his junior hockey in the Toronto area, and put up the second most points in his final year, behind only Brennan Othmann. A decent sized left shot centre, Pinelli has the size and tools to develop into a top-six centre at the NHL level.
Francesco Pinelli’s on-ice production
Pinelli is really good at producing on offence. Take a look at his numbers below:
|2018-19||D-2||GTHL U-16||Toronto Red Wings U-16 AAA||71||49||65||114||N/A|
He has excelled at every single level he has played at. Selected 13th overall in the OHL draft, Pinelli put up strong numbers in his rookie year, finishing third among U17 skaters that season. He was only behind Shane Wright and Mason McTavish in that category, and finished 116th league wide in scoring as a rookie. These numbers are not going to jump off the page the way that other players’ numbers did, but as a rookie these are very impressive.
However, what separated him from the pack was his play this season in the AlpsHL. Not only did Pinelli fly around the world to a country that speaks a language he does not know, he played in a men’s league and showed that he can play against guys bigger and stronger than him and still make an impact.
The cherry on top was his performance at the World U18s this season where he played for Team Canada. In seven games, Pinelli put up seven goals and four assists good for seventh in the tournament. As if Pinelli hadn’t separated himself enough in an incredible season playing against men in Central Europe, he capped it off by being one of the best players in a tournament of all the top prospects in this year’s tournament. Needless to say his draft stock has taken a huge leap forward this year.
Francesco Pinelli’s strengths
Pinelli is a phenomenal skater. Very strong on his skates, he can move to where the puck will come and set himself up well for a chance. Because of his strong skating, he can use his body movement to trick defenders into thinking he’s going to do one thing when he’s going to do another. Watch this play from the World U18 Tournament in which he picks up the puck in the neutral zone, skates into the attacking area, and fakes the pass before taking the shot:
Even though his skating shows off flashiness on open ice, he isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas to get chances either. He thrives in front of the net and isn’t afraid to try and retrieve the puck from the corners. Unlike some forwards, he also has no issues playing deep in his own zone to help support the transition.
Pinelli’s two-way game is great, allowing him to be responsible in his own zone and limit chances against. When he gets the puck, his great vision allows him to make excellent tape-to-tape passes to create scoring chances.
What stands out more is how he can limit other team’s from breaking out of their own zone. This clip from the AlpsHL demonstrates it perfectly. Watch him apply pressure, then seeing his teammate coming to take the puck, sneaks around the defenders right to the front of the net for a pass:
When he gets the puck in the offensive zone, Pinelli has a strong and accurate wrist shot that can beat goalies from close or mid-range. He excels in creating chances from the slot or closer in, but does not have enough power on his shot to really contend from further back. This is something that will undoubtedly come as he builds muscle, but he has a big frame which should fill in with some more work in the gym. That said, he is able to create chances in tight, and is unafraid to muscle his way to the front of the net to jam away at pucks in tight.
Francesco Pinelli’s areas of improvement
As smart as he is in creating chances on net, Pinelli is unreliable in his deking. Sometimes he is excellent at moving the puck from forehand to backhand to get around defenders, but he often gets caught trying to be too fancy and loses the puck. This is a problem especially in transition, where his fanciness has led to dangerous chances against. The deking is incredible when it works, but can be detrimental when he gets it wrong. He will need to improve both his deking ability and his decision making if he wants to succeed at the NHL level.
That being said, as far as problems go, this is a good one to have. Pinelli is a sneaky forward who can wheel-and-deal to draw defenders to him, thus creating openings for his teammates. He just needs to learn how to use this skill most effectively, which may take some conditioning at the AHL level.
Fit with the Flames
Are the Calgary Flames overwhelmed by left shot forwards? Yes. But would Pinelli be an excellent pick if available at 12th overall? Absolutely he would. The Flames have a lot of murkiness at centre, with a mix of Elias Lindholm, an oft-injured Sean Monahan, and a 32-year-old Mikael Backlund occupying the team’s top three slots.
Then in the minors the Flames have Glenn Gawdin, who will likely challenge for the fourth line centre role, Adam Ruzicka, who projects to be a middle-six centre or winger, Connor Zary, who will likely play wing, Jakob Pelletier, likely a winger as well, Mathias Emilio Peterssen, who is still developing, and a number of question marks. There is not one likely top-six centre in the system.
The Flames also have one excellent playmaker in Johnny Gaudreau, but lack creativity in the attacking zone. Pinelli could be prospect to fill out several roles altogether. And while it will take him a few seasons of development to be NHL ready, he could be a great fit to complement some of the team’s younger players that will form the team’s next core.
Described as a cross between Gaudreau and Pavelski is very high praise, and if Pinelli can become even close to this comparison, he would be a great fit at the NHL level. While he does have some flaws in his game, they are teachable and can be corrected with the right coaching.
Projection: Top-six centre
Previously: William Eklund, Dylan Guenther, Cole Sillinger, Jesper Wallstedt, Kent Johnson, Simon Robertsson, Fabian Lysell, Aatu Räty, Carson Lambos, Simon Edvinsson, Chaz Lucius, Mason McTavish, Brennan Othmann, Corson Ceulemans
Featured image created with Venngage.