Scouting Report: Luca Pinelli

Photo Credit: Robert Lefebvre / OHL Images

As one would expect with a 5’9 forward, Luca Pinelli’s draft rankings have quite a wide range and follow almost no consensus, spanning from the early second round to, in some cases, unranked. Smaht is one of those outliers, ranking Pinelli at 37. It is obviously a team decision, but I was undoubtedly one of the most vocal among the team about Pinelli in that range of the draft. While he’s not a flawless prospect, my short justification is that he has too many of the qualities I seek to overlook his potential. Like every prospect, there will be hurdles for him to overcome, but they aren’t unsurmountable, and there is good reason to be optimistic about him moving forward.

Player Profile

D.O.B – April 5, 2005
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height –5’9″
Weight –161 lbs
Position – Forward
Handedness – Left

Pinelli’s Style of Play

The first and most apparent aspect of Pinelli’s game that you easily spot in the first few shifts of a viewing is his non-stop motor. He is constantly zooming around, applying persistent pressure all over the ice and is relentless in pursuit of the puck. This high-end work rate enables Luca to close down defenders, force turnovers frequently, and be a total nuisance for the opposition. At his size, he certainly isn’t a physically imposing forechecker that will lay a massive hit. Still, with his effort level and peskiness to finish checks, he can be a pain for defenders attempting to retrieve a dumped-in puck. Despite being on the smaller side, he is proficient at winning puck battles and plays along the boards from players with physical advantages over him. This rambunctious puck pressure is one of the more projectable elements of his game, as there will always be room for a player who doesn’t stop when they hit the ice and can be a pest.

The catch twenty-two here is a lot of his success in this department relies on his quickness to close down opponents, and there are valid concerns about his skating that may hinder his ability to continue to do so as competition gets bigger/faster/stronger. I am the first to admit that I am no skating mechanics expert, but still, I could spot some inefficiencies in how Pinelli moves. His stance is slightly wider than ideal, he kicks his heel up after stride extension, and his recovery is a bit of a stomp rather than a smooth glide into his next stride. All of these issues make him an inefficient skater, especially on his stride recoveries and seamlessly chaining strides together. It’s certainly not a hindrance at the junior level, but the question mark is how much better can his skating get to keep pace at the professional level.

I won’t dive too much further into the details here, but the takeaway for me is that if I were on a scouting staff, this is a situation where you consult your development team on how much improvements can be expected to be realized. Skating may be a long-term hurdle for Pinelli, but if your dev team is optimistic that they can work with him to become more efficient, there is reason to believe he can overcome it and succeed at the NHL level. Especially with his non-stop hustle, if Pinelli can keep getting quicker, he could continue to be that irritating forechecker as he climbs the hockey ladder.

The second aspect I adore in Pinelli’s game is his puck management and creativity. Almost every time he possesses the puck, he can smartly spot the correct route to a controlled exit, entry, or a pass to the dangerous parts of the ice. He doesn’t shy away from using delays, resetting, regrouping, or whatever the situation calls to ensure his team maintains controlled possession of the puck. Especially along the boards and exterior of the offensive zone, Pinelli controls the puck for long stretches, smartly circles the perimeter, causing the defence to shift out of position, and attacks the gaps created with clever passing to set up teammates for quality chances. Rarely do you see Luca crumble under pressure, and frequently will he play with a defender on his back and come out of the situation with an advantage after a quick turn or smart pass. The only knock I have in the puck management area of his game is there are moments when he can be a bit trigger-happy to fire a puck on net from distance. It’s not a major red flag, as shot selection can easily be refined, but something worth noting as a potential development opportunity.

The final facet of Pinelli’s game that stands out is his ability to find space in the offensive zone. He is continuously rotating around and looking to time himself into open pockets of space. Luca will pop in and out of the slot to make himself available for dangerous passes, and once he’s open, he can make the opposition pay. He is a great catch-and-release shooter who can fire pucks with one-timers or after a quick touch to gather control and rifle it home. These two abilities work perfectly together, as Pinelli is always finding open space to receive passes, and when he’s hit with a pass, he is a lethal shooter. This is another projectable element of Pinelli’s game as a player who understands offensive rotations, spacing, and timing is one that can surely find success as he continues to advance in his hockey career.

Under this same positioning theme, I always found when he’s rotating in the offensive zone, Pinelli is aware of his defenders who are activating and will smartly fill in their spots and cover for them. It’s a minor detail, but one worth mentioning to further paint this picture of a player with excellent hockey sense and awareness.

To quickly recap, we have a player today who plays with a high-end motor, is a great puck manager, is a creative playmaker, and has a high-end hockey sense. The essential question to answer is how it will translate to the professional level when the competition level is significantly more challenging.


This is where evaluators come to a fork in the road with Pinelli. It’s not up for debate that he is an excellent junior player, and the issue lies within projecting how he’ll succeed at the pro ranks. For some, they are hesitant that he will overcome his size and skating limitations and may top out as a decent AHL scorer who never breaks through at the NHL level. I can’t say I necessarily disagree, and I acknowledge that it is a possible outcome, but I still think he’s worth the bet and won’t deter me from selecting him. That may seem a bit counterintuitive, but when I approach the draft, I always like to think of “What is the best possible outcome?” which leads me to a philosophy of seeking players who project to be above replacement level if everything goes right. In general, if the best-case scenario for a player is a depth roster player who could otherwise be found cheaply via trade or off waivers, I am generally not as interested as a player who, if their development goes correctly, is a more valuable piece who plays higher in the lineup. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but for the sake of Pinelli, it paints the right picture of where my mind is at.

When I evaluate Luca, I see way too many of the desirable essential elements that I am looking for in a prospect that could fill a valuable role in a lineup. The work rate, tenacity, puck possession mindset, playmaking, hockey sense, finishing, and craftiness, Luca has it all. With all these tools to combine and build upon, there is everything there for Pinelli to develop into a quality middle-six winger. Yes, he will need to continue to work to become a more efficient and powerful skater, and maybe it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think we have sufficient reason to be that pessimistic. Especially when he is likely to be a selection in the 50s, 60s, 70s or possibly beyond, I’d hate to miss on a player that fits this description and is held back by something that could see substantial gains in the next few seasons. In my mind, Pinelli has all the crucial elements that are difficult to learn and develop, so I am hopeful that skating can come along and he can hit his full potential.

Latest Update

June 28, 2023

stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Jordan Malette. If you would like to follow Jordan on Twitter, his handle is @jordanmalette.

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