The 2020 NHL Draft is fast approaching, and there appears to be a logjam at the top. Alexis Lafrenière and Quinton Byfield seem like locks for the top-two selections, but after that, the draft will get very interesting. Among the players who could hear their name called third overall, Marco Rossi is one of the most intriguing.
Playing for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, the star centreman has been in the top-10 of most rankings all season but has still been trending up. Rossi is one of the very best players in this deep draft class. On top of this, he might soon be the best Austrian-born player that the NHL has ever seen.
Current Best Players from Austria
While saying a player might be the best a nation has ever seen would usually be an extremely bold statement, it’s not really in this case. There have only been 15 players born in Austria to play an NHL game, and only five of them have played more than 100.
Before we get into why Rossi will be the best of all of these players, let’s first look at who his competition is.
Michael Raffl is a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. He was undrafted, signing with the Flyers in May 2013 from Leksands IF in the Allsvenskan. He’s played seven seasons with the team, with a career-high of 21 goals in 2014-15 and 31 points in 2015-16. Raffl is third in all-time points from an Austrian-born player but isn’t likely to pass the two ahead of him.
Raffl also doesn’t really pose a threat to Rossi taking the title of the best Austrian NHLer ever. He’s more of a depth player, playing bottom-six minutes for the Flyers. While he’s a very useful player to have on a team, Rossi will have no problem passing him in the ranks.
Michael Grabner currently holds the second spot all-time for points by an Austrian-born player. Another active player, Grabner is a bit easier to compare to Rossi. He grew up playing in Austria, before being drafted 22nd overall in the CHL Import Draft to the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. Playing in the CHL, he put up 88 goals, 41 assists and 129 points in 180 games (three seasons). Rossi has already passed that assist and point total before the end of his second season.
The current Arizona Coyote has had some good seasons in past years. He had 52 points in 2010-11 with the New York Islanders, and 40 in 2016-17 with the New York Rangers. But he’s a middle-six forward. He’s a solid depth guy on a team, but he’s not (and won’t be) and offensive powerhouse. Rossi will be.
Rossi’s biggest competition is NHL traveller Thomas Vanek. Vanek was taken fifth overall in 2003. It’s not a certainty that Rossi will beat that. This is a very deep draft, and Rossi has been ranked all over the top 10. However, where he’s taken in the draft won’t impact him becoming better than Vanek ever was.
Vanek went through the USHL and the NCAA, playing very well for the Sioux Falls Stampede and the University of Minnesota. That transitioned well to one season in the AHL and a great start to an NHL career. He went on to play 1,029 games in the NHL on eight different teams. He collected 373 goals, 416 assists, and 789 points. Rossi has his work cut out to be in this conversation, but I have no questions that he’ll be able to do it.
Getting to Know Rossi
Rossi was born in Feldkirch, Austria. He played his youth hockey in Austra before collecting a Swiss player license in 2011-12 and quickly rising up the ranks in Switzerland. After being drafted by the 67’s 18th overall in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, the young player came overseas to show off his talent in the OHL.
Right off the bat, Rossi made a big impact. His rookie season saw him collect 29 goals, 36 assists, and 65 points in just 53 games. He finished second in the OHL for rookie scoring to Cole Perfetti, who had 74 points in 63 games. Rossi had 1.23 points per game to Perfetti’s 1.17. He showed up big in the team’s unprecedented playoff run as well (14-straight wins, followed by four straight losses in the OHL Final). He racked up six goals, 16 assists and 22 points in 17 games. He was named to the OHL Second All-Rookie Team for his impressive season.
This season, Rossi has been one of the best players – if not the best – in the CHL. He was the second player in the three leagues to hit the 100-point plateau this season, one day after Alexis Lafrenière and one day before Perfetti. Considering these have been his first two seasons playing in North America, he’s been extraordinary.
Being from Austria, Rossi hasn’t had the fortune of playing internationally as much as his fellow draftmates. While his peers received praise at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the World Juniors, Rossi’s name was under the radar it seemed. But his performance in the OHL has made sure that the name Marco Rossi remains top of mind when thinking of the 2020 NHL Draft. All while not being top of mind at these major tournaments.
Scouting Report on Rossi
Teams are already getting excited about the 67’s star. He’s an offensive weapon, which is evident in his numbers this year. But looking closely at his game, Rossi simply does all of the little things right, and he’s so good at them that he consistently makes something happen out of nothing. Let’s take a closer look at what makes him so good and what will make him the best Austrian-born player ever.
One of the best aspects of Rossi’s game is his skating ability. Right from the start, the centreman is able to accelerate quickly with a few quick steps, before exploding down the rink. This makes him dangerous anytime he’s on the ice. Whenever he has the puck, he’s likely already flying past you and down the ice on a breakaway. Teams need to play on their heels when Rossi is on the ice.
His agility is elite, as he can zip in and out of defenders with ease. Despite his small frame at 5-foot-9, he’s not easy to knock off the puck, consistently holding his own against opponents. He uses his edges to his advantage, holding the ability to cut one way or another and leave a defender with broken ankles on speed alone.
If a defenseman plays him too close, he risks Rossi blowing past him. But, if you give him too much room, you allow him time to shoot, make a play, or burn you with a burst of speed. In the time it takes you to decide how to play Rossi, he’s likely already past you.
The forward boasts a full arsenal of shots, all of which are capable of fooling a goaltender. His go-to is his snapshot, which is incredibly accurate and has force behind it. He can also seemingly fire it at any moment, whether he’s on the rush, evading defenders, or wide open in the slot.
He also has a great slapshot, which carries the accuracy of his snapshot with more force behind it. You don’t want to give this player space, as he’ll rip it past your netminder. You can see this often on the one-time when he has room, as it will usually be in the back of the net.
What might set Rossi apart is his unpredictability. He brings in his puck handling to his shots, often dekeing around a defender or goaltender to get the shot off. From there, he can flip a backhand shot over or through a goalie, leaving everyone wondering what just happened. He’s a human highlight reel, holding a complete set of moves that allow him to see the open twine.
Rossi’s assist total this season speaks for itself. He sees the ice so well, he can see the open man across the offensive zone wide open and makes a crisp, hard pass on the tape. Goal. We’ve seen it time and time again this season – Rossi knows how to pass.
It could be argued that Rossi could pass the puck more in transition, but when you are as skilled as he is, why not carry it in yourself? I’ve heard some call him a puck hog, but I don’t see that as the case. He doesn’t either, as he even describes himself as a playmaker.
When he has the puck, there’s a very high probability that you will gain possession in the offensive end. Once it’s in, he can continue to work his magic, either with a shot as described above, or a cross-ice pass to the open winger.
When he does pass, he shows off his high hockey IQ, setting up a play or clearing the zone. As he leads the OHL in assists, I think it’s safe to say that passing isn’t an issue for the future NHL star.
Ah, Rossi’s puck handling. If there was a cheat code for handling the puck, Rossi has it down pat. Once he has it, you’re not likely to get it away from him and he’s about to perform magic on the ice. I’d argue that puck handling is his biggest strength at this point.
His elite vision and patience factor in here, as on top of holding the puck for as long as he needs to, he reads the ice and on top of knowing where everyone is, he knows where they are going to be. He’s very good at waiting until the perfect moment to make a play, frustrating defences (and goaltenders) in the process.
He is constantly whipping out new moves to get around defensemen, using a combination of his puck skills and his skating skills to do so. He’s an extremely creative player, and just how his shot can create highlight-reel plays, his hands can as well. He’ll be a fan favourite on any team he plays for in the NHL.
There’s often a misconception that these young players coming up through the ranks can’t play defence. Rossi (among many others in this year’s draft class) proves that wrong. He is often out on the penalty kill and fills the typical centreman role to a tee. He comes down below the circles to support his defensemen, he’s often making breakout passes, and he’s a very strong faceoff man. Everything you’d look for in a defensive forward.
Rossi also has a hustle to his defensive game that some NHL offensive threats don’t have. He makes sure to keep up with his man, always backchecks, and those hands come into play when he steals the puck from the opponent in his own end.
At 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, he doesn’t always win the board battles, but he always competes hard. He’s also not a very physical player, rather using his skill to steal the puck and make room for himself. As Rossi rises up the ranks and gets older, he’ll build strength and win more of those battles. It’s not something to worry about at this point.
Rossi Will be the Best Austrian Ever
The young Austrian player is one of the most complete players in this draft, looking more and more like a top-five pick. There’s a ton of talent at the top of the draft this year though, so there’s no guarantee that that happens. Whether he matches or passes Vanek’s draft spot (fifth overall) won’t have any impact on Rossi becoming a better player.
Vanek was a sniper in his prime. He was a very good goal-scorer and racked up the points in a very respectable career. He lacked in some areas defensively, an aspect I don’t expect from the newest Austrian. Rossi looks like he could be a superstar in the NHL let alone a star. I expect him to take the league by storm, combining the offensive threat with the defensive mindset. He’ll be a coach’s dream and, depending on the organization, could be a fanbase’s saviour.
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.