Good prospects don't let a bad night let them down.
Francesco Pinelli knows all about that. Pinelli was expected to be a key member of Canada's run at a gold medal in Texas, being one of the 13 OHLers on the team, but one of the only ones who got into game action this season.
Things started off well against Sweden, scoring a goal and two assists in a rather impressive outing for the centerman. But Pinelli received limited ice time against Latvia after struggling to find his pace in a game where Canada just nudged out a 4-2 win.
"He's a really good kid," Canadian coach Dave Barr said. "He's super easy to coach, wants to be a player. So, I sat him there, and I really wouldn't have minded putting him back in, but he had sat for so long that I didn't think I'd be doing him any favours."
Friday night, though, was a completely different experience. Pinelli led the way for Canada in a 7-0 win over Switzerland by notching three goals and an assist, putting him in a five-way tie for first in tournament scoring and first among all Canadians.
“I tried to stay positive and focused on the things I could control," Pinelli said on Friday evening. "When coach called on me, I wanted to be ready to make an impact and I thought I came out and skated well tonight. I helped out our offensive by making good plays with the puck, and I had a good mindset coming into the game.”
The result was exactly what the Canadian coaching staff was looking for out of the Kitchener Rangers star.
"He's a good skilled player who cares about what he's doing for the team, how he's affecting things," Barr said. "He's always willing to try to do what we're asking him. He understands the role of a centreman in the d-zone coverage."
His play against Switzerland shouldn't come as a surprise to fans in Kitchener, but they haven't had a chance to watch him in person since March of 2020. Pinelli was fortunate enough to find refuge with HDD Jesenice in the Alps Hockey League in Slovenia, potting five goals and 11 points in 13 games with the men's pro team. Despite being one of the youngest players on the team, Pinelli succeeded in a top-six role and was more often than not the best player on the ice in any given game.
"It's not the best league in the world, but he looked like a man out there," a scout said. "Didn't miss a beat once he moved over and was downright dangerous."
A projected first-round pick at the 2021 draft, Pinelli proved himself as an OHL rookie a year ago with 18 goals and 41 points in 59 games, good for eighth on a team dominated by older players. Had Pinelli been able to play in the OHL this season, he would have likely gone for 70-80 points as a sophomore.
Pinelli's offensive potential has always been there. In his minor midget season, Pinelli's 49 goals and 114 points were a highlight en route to the Toronto Red Wings making it to the OHL Cup final against Don Mills. Scouts aren't worried about the type of numbers he'll be able to put up at the next level, but his skating is something that isn't up to his otherwise reliable play with the puck.
"He can play any role you need of him and his compete level is there, but he'll frustrate you at points," another scout said. "His skating isn't pretty. He needs to be more efficient and get more out of his strides so he doesn't lose races to the puck. But the right coaches at the next level should help with that."
It won't take you much time combing through clips of the tournament to see just what Pinelli is made of. On any odd shift, you'll find him drawing defenders out of position before catching the goalie off guard with a wrist shot that took little-to-no windup to make happen. He can be relentless on the forecheck and you can count on him to force quite a few turnovers in a game.
Pinelli has experience at both wing and down the middle, but when he's on the wing, his game has a real Johnny Gaudreau vibe to him. Pinelli should revert back to center when he returns to Kitchener next season in what should be a breakout season for a forward who didn't get a chance to prove his value on home soil.
"He's about to make the teams that pass him look really, really stupid," a scout said. "There's just so much potential there."