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2021 NHL Draft: Francesco Pinelli is one the smartest centers in the draft

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An intelligent playmaker might be available for the Wild to pick.

Kitchener Rangers v Oshawa Generals Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Francesco Pinelli’s middle name is Paulo, and when put together, Francesco Paulo Pinelli might be the coolest name name in the first round — sorry Chaz.

Aside from being a top pick in the name category, he’s a sure-fire first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft. For me, he represents a new age of players that can wow you with their offensive talent, and Hockey IQ and still be defensively responsible.

So Francesco, or Frankie? I don’t know, but Pinelli is one of my favorite prospects in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and if given the opportunity, the Minnesota Wild should use one of their first round picks on this electric center. It’s hard to call a first-round talent, underrated — but Francesco Pinelli is an underrated prospect.

Pre-Draft Rankings

#15 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

#16 by Elite Prospects

#24 by Scott Wheeler/The Athletic

#26 by Dobber Prospects

#23 by Bob McKenzie/TSN

What Scouts (Including Myself) Are Saying

I see a player who would’ve been rated much higher had they had the opportunity to play in the OHL this season. Despite no OHL season, he was able to go over and play in Slovenia, in the AlpsHL. The AlpsHL is not a traditional feeder system into the draft, but I think there’s something to be said for a forward who can put up nearly a point per game in a league against men. We can’t paint all of the OHL draft eligible players, who played in Europe, with the same brush, but this isn’t an insignificant accomplishment for a young player.

I feel that this type of success is something we can expect from a player like Pinelli. Nevermind the 1.6 PPG in his OHL Draft year, but this is a player who made the Kitchener Rangers after his first rookie camp, and had 41 points in 59 games as a 16 year old. That gold medal to add to the resume doesn’t hurt either.

When I’ve seen Pinelli play, I see a player with a high hockey IQ, looking to create plays, and find shooting lanes before shooting the puck himself. When he does shoot, it’s impressive to see the release he can get off while skating. When watching video, sometimes it’s hard to decipher whether or not he has a great shot, or is just in such a great position to score, that he does. I’m being nitpicky, but I’d like to see a larger shot selection from him — with a heavier shot, I think he can be even more deadly.

I wouldn’t say there’s a standout thing from Pinelli that will hold him back from being a meaningful player in the NHL. I see people criticize his skating, and that’s probably fair, but I think when you transition as well as he does, it’s probably not causing major setbacks. I can’t think of too many situations in Kitchener where he wasn’t able to get out of a sticky situation with his decision quality. At higher levels, he’ll need to work on his pace and consistency. Although the skating doesn’t pose too much of an issue- he needs to focus on when he needs to turn it up, and when does he need to tone it down.

Defensively, we’ve seen Pinelli use his low center of gravity, and balance to fight through checks and drive players to the outside. He can beat you one on one, and in the greasy areas. As I’ve touched on before, he can lean on his transition ability to outskate and outsmart the other team — I can think of a few examples in Kitchener where he quickly intercepted the puck in the offensive end, and created a scoring opportunity. That said, his acceleration and first few strides will need to improve for him to be successful at a higher level.

When he wasn’t directly involved in the play, Pinelli was able to lean on his positioning, and gap control to force turnovers. Pinelli isn’t a player that’s going to lay someone out, but he uses his body to create space in all three zones.

Because he’s a center, we have to touch on face-offs. They’re not a highlight, but I think as he develops (if he develops as a center), he’ll figure it out.

For me, Pinelli really shines in special teams deployment. His last year in Kitchener he proved deadly on the power play, and I think for a team that needs that offensive punch, he can deliver.

Pinelli’s game is archetypal of the way the game is trending. He’s a slick, creative puckhandler and facilitator who manipulates set structures to create lanes for himself, slicing pucks through and around feet and sticks. He’s also light and airy on his blades, with skating mechanics around quick cuts and adjustable edges more than straight-line power. He’s an entertaining, puck-dominant east-west player who thrives when he gets a lot of touches. And while his decision-making with the puck can be a little suspect at times (and resulted in a brief benching during his otherwise impressive U18 worlds), he’s diligent without the puck and projects as a centre long-term.

-Scott Wheeler, The Athletic

Pinelli was one of the lucky OHL players who were able to put together a season with a significant amount of games played, namely for Jesenice in AlpsHL. Pinelli is highly skillful two-way center with great offensive capabilities and smarts. Using his skillset, he can set up teammates in the offensive zone from all positions using his creative mind and finish off chances on his own. Pinelli was one of the best players at the recent U18 World Championships with 11 points in seven games. He needs to add a little bit of pace, but otherwise looks like a highly skilled, playmaking, two-way center with many transferrable traits.

-Samuel Tirpak, Dobber Prospects

Would He Fit In With The Wild?

Objectively, it’s a resounding yes from me. When I think about a team like the Wild, I think of a team who could use this type of offensive punch in their top six. It doesn’t hurt that Pinelli has been tremendously successful on the power play, and has played a penalty killing role, too. This is exactly the type of player the Minnesota Wild should be looking at. Who doesn’t love versatility?

Could The Wild Get Him?

Yeah, I think the could. He’s expected to be drafted in the back half of the first round, and I would use either of Minnesota’s picks to select a talent like Pinelli.

A Minnesota Relation

Pinelli is a player that projects to be an all-around center that has the vision to keep up at the NHL level and some key offensive attributes to really make those gears work and might even just put up a bunch of points. For me, that’s Mikael Granlund — but like the early, less refined Granlund that the Wild had in Minnesota. Able to be a streaky scorer and play all around the puck, if Pinelli even has half the career Granlund does, then it’s a successful one.

This draft board isn’t a ranking, it’s just the order in which we published our draft profiles and some guys we just wanted to write about.

2021 NHL Draft Board

  1. Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  2. Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  3. Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
  4. Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  5. Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
  6. Simon Edvinsson — D, Frolunda (SHL)
  7. William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
  8. Kent Johnson — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  9. Mason McTavish — C/W, Peterborough Petes/EHC Olten (OHL/Swiss)
  10. Carson Lambos — D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
  11. Aatu Raty — C, Kärpät (Liiga)
  12. Chaz Lucius — C, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)/U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  13. Cole Sillinger — C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
  14. Sasha Pastujov — LW, U.S. National U18 team (USDP)
  15. Jesper Wallstedt — G, Luleå HF (SHL)
  16. Fabian Lysell — RW, Luleå HF (SHL)
  17. Matthew Coronato — LW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
  18. Oskar Olausson — F, HV71 (HockeyAllsvenskan/Swedish)
  19. Corson Ceulemans — D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
  20. Fyodor Svechkov — C, Togliatti (VHL)
  21. Brennan Othmann — LW, EHC Olten (SL)
  22. Zach Bolduc — C, Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
  23. Xavier Bourgault — C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
  24. Olen Zellweger — D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
  25. Isak Rosén — LW/RW, Leksands IF (SHL)
  26. Zachary L’Heureux — C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
  27. Nikita Chibrikov — LW/RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
  28. Matthew Samoskevich — C, Chicago Steel (USHL)
  29. Francesco Pinelli — C, HDD Jesenice (AlpsHL)/Kitchener Rangers (OHL)