2020-21 Team: HDD Jesenice (#71)
Date of Birth: Apr. 11, 2003
Place of Birth: Hamilton, Ontario
Wt: 185 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2021 first-year eligibility
- NHL Central Scouting: 15th (amongst NA skaters)
- FC Hockey: 16th
- TSN/McKenzie: 24th
- Elite Prospects: 20th
- McKeen’s Hockey: 17th
- Dobber Prospects: 27th
- Smaht Scouting: 31st
- The Hockey Writers (Zator): 23rd
- The Hockey Writers (Baracchini): 19th
- The Hockey Writers (Forbes): 24th
There is a lot about the 2021 NHL Draft that will be abnormal compared to drafts in previous years. This is obviously a captain obvious statement, given the fact that the pandemic has derailed the development of many CHL players, specifically ones playing in the OHL. While the QMJHL and the WHL were able to scrape together a bit of a season, the OHL never got things going.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
As a result, many 2021 draft prospects who had been playing in the OHL looked to Europe to keep their legs fresh leading up to their draft year. One of these players was Francesco Pinelli. I’ll get to his unusual 2020-21 season in a little bit, but first, let’s take a look at how he got to where he is now.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Pinelli played triple-A hockey with the Toronto Red Wings, serving as their team captain and putting up 114 points in 71 games in his OHL draft year. The Kitchener Rangers liked what they saw, selecting the then-5-foot-11 centre with their first-round pick at 13th overall.
Pinelli made the Rangers out of training camp prior to the 2019-20 season and made his OHL debut with the team that same year. He would go on to have an impressive year, putting up 18 goals and 41 points through 59 games before the pandemic put a halt to the OHL season.
With the 2020-21 season looming and no plans for an OHL season in sight, Pinelli joined fellow 2021 draft prospects such as Brandt Clarke, Carson Lambos, Brennan Othmann, and Mason McTavish by making the decision to play in Europe in his draft season. Options were limited, however, and Pinelli ended up playing for HDD Jesenice of the Alps Hockey League on loan.
Going from playing in a league with guys your age and being close to home to playing in a league with grown men almost seven thousand kilometres away from home would be a challenging set of circumstances for any junior hockey player. But Pinelli took it in stride.
Living on his own for the first time in a foreign country where he didn’t speak a lick of Slovenian, Pinelli put up 11 points through 13 games for HDD Jesenice. Albeit a small sample size, he impressed and definitely appeared to make the best of an unusual situation.
To follow up his stint in Slovenia, Pinelli earned the opportunity to represent Team Canada at the 2021 Under-18 World Hockey Championships. Playing alongside future draft phenoms in Connor Bedard and Shane Wright, he finished the tournament tied for second in points with 11 through seven games.
Now standing at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Pinelli is an incredibly flashy player who’s electric offensively and reliable defensively. He has an above-average shot with a minimal windup, as his wrists are strong enough to generate effective shots without one. His skating is also above-average, and he’s a player you can trust to generate plays in all areas of the ice.
Pinelli is also good on the forecheck and has no issue throwing the body. He’s a very unselfish player who will let his linemates create the plays as much as he enjoys creating them himself. He can be just as effective as a finisher as a playmaker.
Other THW Draft Profiles
Francesco Pinelli – NHL Draft Projection
I think Pinelli really got the short end of the stick when it comes to his ranking, considering the fact that he didn’t have an OHL season. Because of his limited sample size this year, Pinelli could end up anywhere from 15th to 32nd overall. Having said that, I think had he played in the OHL all year and had a proper season under his belt, I would rank him in the top ten.
“Pinelli is a highly intelligent playmaker who is constantly scanning the play in preparation for his next move, with or without the puck. He has a cerebral sense of spacing in the offensive zone and attacks free ice at opportune times, making himself available for passes or creating scoring chances for his teammates with quick feeds in tight. He takes good routes in puck pursuit but also reads pressure well, knowing when to back off and take up a defensive posture as the high man. Pinelli is a slick puck handler who can beat the first man to create more space and better passing lanes to complete passes to his teammates, consistently getting pucks into high danger areas in the offensive zone. Though he is more effective as a passer, Pinelli has a quick release and can finish on his own as well. He isn’t the smoothest skater and though he is able to slow the game down at times, he will need to add a bit more pace to his game in order to reach his potential as a top-six pivot at the NHL level.” –Nick Richard, Dobber Prospects
“If you like fun and flashy hockey players, you will appreciate Francesco Pinelli. Pinelli has shown throughout his time with the Kitchener Rangers and HDD Jesenice that he can be a dominant force in all three zones. He is a defensively responsible forward with a quality shot in medium danger.” –Josh Tessler, Smaht Scouting
“Pinelli is an elite skater with excellent puck pursuit, work ethic and a high compete level. The 18-year-old can contribute on the power play and penalty kill, and projects to be a reliable two-way player in the NHL” –Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com
“Great blend of skill and will. Kitchener played him on the wing as a 16-year-old last season, but he will return to his natural centre position upon resumption of play.” –Sam Consentino, Sportsnet
- Hockey IQ
Under Construction – Improvements To Make
Pinelli’s game is very well-rounded for the most part. He could use some work on his stickhandling and maybe a little bit on his skating, but there aren’t any real holes in his game. If he fine-tunes these aspects of his game, there won’t be much else for him to correct.
I see Pinelli panning out as a top-six centre in the NHL, assuming his development goes smoothly. He has the ability to play on the wing as well as centre, so he would be a valuable addition to any NHL team’s top six.
Risk – 1/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 8/10, Defence 7/10
Pinelli and HDD Jesenice were the top Slovenian team in 2020-21, and he also took home a gold medal at the U18 World Championships. He also collected a silver medal at the 2019 Canada Winter Games and was named to the OHL Cup All-Star Team.
Francesco Pinelli Statistics
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Maple Leafs Lounge Podcast, presented by THW. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.