Though he traded in his C and red-and-white Toronto Red Wings jersey in for an unlettered, blue, white and red Kitchener Rangers jersey this season, Francesco Pinelli was every bit as undaunted by OHL competition this season as he was in his last season of minor midget.
Pinelli was drafted by the Rangers in the first round of the OHL Draft last spring after leading the Red Wings to the OHL Cup final, where they eventually fell in overtime. Described as a versatile, two-way power forward, Pinelli led the team in scoring and put up three points in the final game.
Although there is typically an adjustment from minor midget to major junior, Pinelli kicked off his first OHL campaign with a bang, potting six goals in his first six OHL games. His game is extremely well-rounded for his age, which prepared him well for the jump to major junior. He had an opportunity to play on Kitchener’s top powerplay unit, scoring five times on the man-advantage. We’ll likely see him killing penalties next season as well.
Injuries did see Pinelli play more than a few games at center, but he spent most of the season at left wing, on a line with Rangers overagers Greg Meireles and Jonathan Yantsis. Pinelli will likely be a full-time OHL center next season, with Kitchener’s top two centers, Meireles and Riley Damiani, graduating to pro hockey.
When Pinelli wasn’t contributing offensively this season, he was still involved in plays. He is an excellent positional player, and will use his stick to cut off passes and force turnovers. His dedication to his defensive play was evident this season and as he gets stronger, he’ll only become more effective in his own end.
Pinelli is often praised for his innate leadership skills:
“He’s a leader and the guys followed,” said [Toronto Red Wings head coach] Catenaro. “Kitchener is getting a great hockey player. When he’s playing he leaves it all on the ice.” [The Record]
Pinelli leads by example. He will to go to the dirty areas of the ice, fight for pucks, and play with a physical edge. He showed this season that he’s not afraid to throw a big hit, either. His work ethic is off the charts — he never takes a shift off.
Though he couldn’t quite string together a point streak after the one he had at the beginning of the season, Pinelli still managed to finish fourth overall in OHL rookie scoring. A natural and visionary playmaker, he uses his strong skating to draw defenders to him and open up his linemates to receive passes.
Pinelli’s shot is heavy and precise, especially when he unloads one-timers from the top of the circle on the powerplays. I’d like to see him use it more often next season (and I’m sure he will). With the Rangers’ top six scorers having aged out of the OHL, he’ll be relied on more heavily to drive the offense in Kitchener next year.
Strengths: Vision, Skating, Leadership, Work Ethic
To Improve: Strength, Consistency
Francesco is a skilled two-way power forward who can contribute in numerous areas of the ice with his versatility and overall skillset. Francesco possesses a good, long stride and can produce good speed that will translate well to the next level. [2019 Black Book]
He is a five-tool player who can accomplish any assignment from his coaches and has the offensive upside to suggest that he has more to contribute down the road. Pinelli is a smart, two-way center with excellent skating abilities and high-end puck skills. [Prospect Pipeline]
“He really likes to control the game,” said Toronto Red Wings coach Angelo Catenaro. “He has oodles of character. He wants to win. He has a bit of an edge. He’s not a kid that is going to shy away from any situation.” [The Record]
All statistics from Elite Prospects and the Ontario Hockey League.