He joined the Edmonton Oilers’ organization midway through the 2013-14 season, an older minor-league journeyman still fighting hard (often literally) for that elusive NHL dream. On Tuesday that dream likely came to its conclusion, as it was announced that Pinizzotto had signed with a team in Germany’s top league.
The trade which brought Pinizzotto to the Oilers was one of the more unique ones I can remember seeing, a four-player transaction which saw the Oilers, the Florida Panthers and each team’s respective AHL affiliate swap skaters:
- Edmonton acquired Steve Pinizzotto and Jack Combs (AHL)
- Florida acquired Ryan Martindale and Derek Nesbitt (AHL)
Superficially, Martindale was the catch in the trade, a third-round pick of the Oilers in 2010 who offered size and offensive talent to the Panthers. As a practical matter, Martindale had struggled to even stay in the AHL full-time over parts of three seasons as a professional and Edmonton was willing to move on.
Pinizzotto was a long-time AHL journeyman, but he had struggled as a veteran hand on Florida’s middling AHL team. He’d had an NHL cup of coffee with Vancouver earlier in his career, but injury had ruined that and he was eager to get a fresh look with a new franchise.
He impressed immediately, playing on both special teams in his first game in Oklahoma City and adding a consistently physical presence to the lineup. He got scoring chances. It was a solid performance, and several members of the Oilers front office were on hand to see it. I asked him about the possibility of a player his age breaking through and carving out an NHL niche.
“I’m getting to an age now where there are guys that I am probably 10 years older than I am now,” he told me. “The door can’t stay open forever. I can’t look at next year; like you said I have to worry about this year and hopefully catch some eyes.”
As it happened, Pinizzotto would earn 24 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, recording six points which included his first two career NHL goals.
His big shot came this fall. The Oilers had a couple of open spots at the bottom of the roster and no single player with a clear hold on them. Pinizzotto was part of an intense training camp battle with Jesse Joensuu, Tyler Pitlick, and Will Acton. In the end, Joensuu had a fine camp and a one-way contract, and Acton was a centre, as Craig MacTavish explained on the day that Pinizzotto and Pitlick were sent out as final cuts.
I think that we can debate the effectiveness of Tyler Pitlick. I think Tyler is at a position right now that we wished he would have been at a year or a year and a half ago. He’s turned himself into a professional. It ended up with Tyler as well as with Pinizzotto was two difficult decisions, but at the end of the day for me it got down to a positional bias, and I thought the 13th forward here would be best served by being a centreman. It [waivers] was a risk I was willing to take.
Both Pitlick and Pinizzotto would eventually return; Pitlick played 17 games with the big club and Pinizzotto played 18 and both did a lot of things right. Pinizzotto fit in smoothly with Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks. He was an aggressive physical and pugilistic presence, and that line had some surprising offensive success. Discipline was a problem, though; in his short time with the Oilers Pinizzotto ran up four times as many penalties as he drew, and while a lot of those were a byproduct of playing a physical game they are the kind of thing a fringe NHL forward really can’t afford to do.
Pinizzotto is one of those players who probably could have had a career as a depth player if things had broken just a little bit differently, if for instance he hadn’t lost a season to injury after an impressive training camp with the Canucks in 2011-12.
The Oilers certainly have no cause for complaint; Pinizzotto gave them more NHL minutes than they were going to get from Martindale and there was never a question of effort. He put his not-overly-large frame in harm’s way time and again, played an honest defensive game and got significant production out of what are by NHL standards modest talents. He may not have been a full-time NHL player, but he was a good Oiler all the same.
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