After Dylan Larkin, the Detroit Red Wings’ cupboard is pretty bare at center. Prospects Michael Rasmussen (2017) and Joe Veleno (2018) both played with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL this season. Veleno experienced some growing pains in his first professional season, while Rasmussen battled injuries but had some success when he did play.
It’s that lack of a “sure-thing” down the middle that has many fans considering the merits of drafting a center with the fourth pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. Quinton Byfield is very unlikely to happen, but there are still plenty of top-notch centers available in this year’s draft. One of those centers is Marco Rossi.
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Though he played with arguably the best team in the CHL, the Ottawa 67’s, Rossi helped drive their success – he was not a product of it himself. He has some downsides to his game, but the good definitely outweighs the bad here. You might overlook him in a crowd, but you can’t miss him on the ice.
At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Rossi is small but sturdy. While a guy like Byfield has the physical gifts to impose his will on his opponents, Rossi has to rely on his hands, his feet and his brain. Luckily for him and the team that drafts him, he has no problem doing this.
Although Rossi scored 39 goals this season, he gets praised the most for his ability to read and create plays. 117 assists over his two seasons with the 67’s are evidence of his ability to move the puck into scoring areas. While his scoring touch could fade a bit once he reaches the NHL, his ability to make a play should not – his hockey IQ is simply too high.
Rossi has that heavily-desired ability to make the players around him better. If you line him up with a winger that has a nose for the net, watch out. The funny thing about the Red Wings: they have a few wingers that fit that mold.
When you mention Pavel Datsyuk to the average Red Wing fan, their eyes light up. For good reason, too. The thing about the “Magic Man” is that yes – he could do some crazy stuff on the ice. But he was just as able to make the simple play to put his team in a position to score.
In this sense, Rossi can be a bit “Datsyukian.” He has some flash in his game that will bring fans out of their seats, but he doesn’t dig into that part of his tool kit unless he needs to. Instead, he makes shifty moves with his stick to evade pressure and he creates turnovers with ease. Sound familiar?
Take this comparison with a grain of salt. Datsyuk was once in the conversation of “best player in the world” and for good reason. We may never see a talent like Datsyuk again. Rossi likely isn’t going to reach those heights, but his impact on the Red Wings could be very similar.
Of all the players projected to go around the Red Wings’ pick, Rossi may be in the best position to challenge for a spot with the 2020-21 Red Wings. By no means is he a lock for next season’s roster, but the overall lack of depth at center presents guys like him with opportunities. If he comes to training camp (whenever that is) and lights it up from the start, maybe he gets a nine-game audition?
However, there are some challenges that could (and likely will) prevent Rossi from going pro next season. His size is going to be a challenge, but it shouldn’t inhibit a player like him. He also needs to work on staying engaged in the defensive end. As I mentioned before, his scoring touch could also fade when he’s facing NHL goalies.
That being said, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism:
In the case of Rossi, he is going to be in the NHL in 2021. Whether it’s in the spring or the fall is up to him.
Best Player Available
The 2020 NHL draft is FILLED with high-end forwards. A defenseman like Jamie Drysdale is certainly alluring, but the chance to add an impact forward at a critical position like center deserves some serious consideration. The Red Wings need to approach this draft with a “best player available” mentality.
Make no mistake: Marco Rossi is one of the best players available in this draft. Some would argue that he is a top-three talent in this draft – and there’s certainly merit to that opinion. If you’re a fan of the Red Wings, the reason to be optimistic about picking fourth in this draft is because players like this are available.
A future with Larkin, Rossi and Veleno down the middle would be a good one for the Red Wings. If they opt to go this route, fans should get excited and prepare to buy this kid’s sweater.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.