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2020 NHL Draft Top Prospects: Marco Rossi

When Marco Rossi made the decision to leave Europe and join the Ottawa 67’s two years ago, few could imagine the success story we are now faced with. But for Rossi, this was just another step on a long journey toward becoming one of the highest-rated Austrian prospects of all time.

Birthplace: Feldkirch, AUT
Date of birth: September 23, 2001
Shoots: Left
Position: C
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 179 lbs.
Team: Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

At 10 years old, he elected to leave his youth team to instead begin playing his hockey in the adjacent region of St. Gallen in Switzerland. From then on, Rossi worked his way through the Swiss youth ranks until he finally reached the senior level near the end of the 2017-18 season. Through 18 games played, he made his mark on the National League B (NLB), scoring four times and providing three assists, before he decided that his future — once again — was elsewhere. During the beginning of 2018, Rossi had been selected 18th overall by the Ottawa 67’s in the CHL Import Draft. After weighing his options, he chose to negate the possibility of European pro hockey for the chance to play with, and against, fellow prospects in the Ontario Hockey League.

His unconventional choice seems to have paid off. This season, Rossi won the scoring title for the OHL with 120 points in 56 games, and he will enter the NHL Entry Draft as one of the most intriguing prospects overall. Next year, we could see him going back “home” to Switzerland. If he doesn’t crack an NHL lineup, there have been rumours tying Rossi to his old alma mater ZSC Lions of the National League A (NLA).

When Rossi gets selected in the first round, he will be but the fifth Austrian player drafted with a first-round selection and the first one since Michael Grabner went 13th overall to the Vancouver Canucks in 2006. In addition, Rossi will become the first Austrian to be drafted at all since Andreas Nödl was drafted in the second round of the same draft as Grabner. If he goes in the top four, he will beat out former Hab Thomas Vanek as the highest player ever drafted from his native country.

I said earlier that four Austrians had been drafted in the first round. That is a truth with modification, since the first two — Robin Sadler (1975) and Michael Stewart (1990) — were Canadian-born players who ended up getting Austrian citizenships near the end of their careers, after failing to ever crack an NHL lineup.

Sadler was actually the Montreal Canadiens draft choice that year, but after being selected ninth overall by the Habs, he decided that the life of a professional hockey player was too demanding to be worth pursuing. Yes, it was indeed a different era back then. Sadler ended up being the only player drafted in the first round of the 1975 NHL Entry Draft who failed to register a single NHL game. However, he did get selected for the All-Star team representing Austria at the World Championship’s B-level in 1987.

Marco Rossi is first of all a playmaker, though he’s no slouch when it comes to shooting either, as you can see in the video above. His biggest asset is his hockey sense, much in the same manner as Cole Perfetti. The fact that he is a good shooter with a quick and precise wrister makes him difficult to defend, since opponents never know what to expect. He may be a playmaker-first type of player, something his 81 assists this year proves, but he won’t hesitate to bury the puck in the far corner if the situation demands it.

His playing style is similar to Perfetti’s, but Rossi has an advantage thanks to being the superior skater. This does not mean that Rossi is a fast player — his skating projects to be NHL average — but it doesn’t necessarily hold him back, as some analysts claim that it does to Perfetti’s projections.

Rossi handles the puck in an extremely efficient way, especially when you factor in his limited age. Like Perfetti, he supports plays really well and has a tendency to discover every available option before anyone else has a chance to stop him. He has a knack for discovering the optimal plays for any given situation. He is also strong on face-offs, which adds to his potential as a future NHL centerman.

As we can see in Mitch Brown’s graphs above, Rossi compares as the stronger player when it comes to transitions and retrievals, while Perfetti has the upper hand on defensive plays. I would argue that this is thanks to Rossi’s ability to retrieve the puck back ahead of his defensive zone. He takes more chances in his forechecking than Perfetti, but a lot of the times it actually works out to his advantage.

Comparing the players in expected goals (xG/60), expected primary assists (xA1/60) and turnover rate is almost scary, since it’s so similar. These statistics are, of course, based on a limited amount of games watched and analyzed, but it still adds to what I earlier said about Rossi and Perfetti being similarly styled players.

At 5’9”, Rossi won’t scare defenders with his posture. Instead, he has had to build his game on a low center of gravity and an increased smartness, to keep big bulldozers at arm’s length. Last week, I quoted Craig Button saying that Perfetti was the smartest player in the draft, but the way Rossi plays his game, there could certainly be an argument for him having an even higher level of hockey IQ. The way he uses his small stature to his advantage along the boards, combined with a hard backcheck and a special ability to compete and win net drives, creates a player who is molded for the modern NHL’s 200-foot game.

As you can see, Rossi has the advantage of being one of the oldest players in this year’s draft class. If he had been born just eight days earlier, he would have been eligible for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Even if it’s just a matter of months, age does matter at this age. For example, we can see that Nick Suzuki entered the draft nearly a whole year younger than what Rossi will be come draft day.

Naturally, this puts a perspective in the column for whether you are ready to make the leap to the pro leagues in your draft year, or if you need some further grooming at the CHL level. If Rossi had been in last year’s draft, he most certainly wouldn’t have been a top-ten draft pick. His 87 points in 70 games, including playoffs and a spot on the OHL Second All-Rookie Team, last year was indeed highly productive, but probably would not have been enough to put the current stamp of top line centerman on his forehead with a permanent marker.

Current Rankings

Future Considerations: #8
Hockey Prospect: #8
ISS Hockey: #7
McKeen’s Hockey: #7
McKenzie/TSN: #7
NHL Central Scouting: #6 (North American skaters)

If Rossi was an even stronger skater, he would have had the whole package. There are still teams clinging to old stereotypes that smaller players are less durable, but after having seen the success of guys like Brendan Gallagher and Alex DeBrincat, that should become a truth meant for the rearview mirror sooner rather than later.

My ideal scenario for draft night would be that teams use exactly that mindset to let Rossi drop to wherever a lottery-losing Canadiens end up drafting. Last year, Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins proved that the Canadiens are drafting with the motto that talent trumps size.

If Pierre Dorion hasn’t fallen in love with the kid playing for his local OHL team, I think there is a possibility that teams will overthink the Rossi size aspect and end up over-drafting safer players with lower ceilings. We have seen it happen before, so why not this year?

What’s certain is that Marco Rossi has already reached heights that few other Austrian hockey players have even touched. His father was once a serviceable defenceman in their home country, playing 184 times in the top tier and featuring for the U20 and the U18 national teams. I think it’s safe to say that young Marco has already become the best Rossi that the hockey world has ever seen.