When asked about making the leap to the NHL, Marco Rossi said, “I am ready. One hundred percent.”
Bold words from a newly drafted 19 year old. It’s one thing to hear such a statement from a player, and it’s not a surprise when his agent believes he can be in the Minnesota Wild lineup as early as January 1st, the new target season start date laid out by the NHL. But scouts across the league believe Rossi is the most NHL-player in this draft outside of Alexis Lafreniere.
However, going from the OHL directly into the NHL is a big leap. It’s been done before, so it’s not like Rossi making the Wild would be unprecedented. However, it takes a special player like Nathan MacKinnon to not just make the team, but to make an impact.
Minnesota’s Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett believes that Rossi has all the tools to become a No. 1 center in the NHL. One such tool scouts have raved about is Rossi’s compete level. It’s a generic word, but what the Wild have it in Zach Parise — the never-quit style and tenacity that became such a hallmark of his game is what a high compete-level means. He’s going to go after the puck, work like mad to get it and then make scoring plays.
His offensive awareness is very high as well. The Wild love high hockey IQ players who can think the game at a high level. The problem in Minnesota is that when they’ve had creative players on the team, there didn’t seem to be anyone remotely on the same wavelength. Even Thomas Vanek, a player with loads of creativity, had passes that missed because it looked like his teammates didn’t expect him to make the play. Kevin Fiala had some of the same issues last season. Getting a player in Rossi who has offensive awareness off the charts and the kind of playmaking ability helps both of the players the Wild are building around.
It’s fun to imagine the possibilities of a Kaprizov-Rossi-Fiala line. It would have tremendous skill and scoring ability. It would have speed and tenacity. It would have the kind of toughness that makes taking the puck away an absolute chore. With Rossi, they have a player who can lead the other two on the defensive side of things as well.
The Austrian-born Rossi has been commended for his two-way abilities. He snuffs out the opposition’s scoring chances, is a relentless back-checker and appears to “always be one step ahead of the opposition in the neutral zone,” according to McKeen’s Hockey. It allows Rossi, and his line, to be used in every situation.
He has the tools to impact the Wild, but is it enough to immediately compete next season? Let’s visualize the Rossi dream scenario coming true: He breaks training camp as the Wild’s top center with Kaprizov and Fiala as his wings.
First, the defense corps of the Wild is elite. It’s well-balanced with offense and can shut down opposing offenses — Minnesota led the league in Expected Goals Against last year. It is primed and signed to compete right now. Not to mention, that group is being paid to contend now. Minnesota has $30 million committed to their defense, and only Greg Pateryn and Brad Hunt are unrestricted free agents after next season.
If Rossi can play on the first line, it allows the center depth to fit into roles that are more suiting to their skill sets. Joel Eriksson Ek is a very good defensive center. That line with Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno is a strong third line that has bulk with an ability to disrupt in the offensive zone.
There is some uncertainty around Marcus Johansson as the second line center because, well, he may not be a center. Placing him between Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello feels like a line that will get buried in it’s own zone. That’s perhaps why Guerin swung a trade for 32-year old Nick Bonino. It feels like an insurance move at center if Eriksson Ek or Bonino can’t play the spot.
Lastly, if Bjugstad is healthy, he can pitch in some scoring from the fourth line. Putting Nico Sturm and Ryan Hartman next to him gives the line another center who can take faceoffs, and a player who can pester the other team.
In order to compete next year, the Wild need a lot from Kaprizov, Rossi and Fiala. It’s probably unfair to place such lofty expectations on two rookies, and it might take a year for the Wild’s top prospects to transition to the NHL.
Adding Rossi next season will make the team exciting to watch. His skills fit what the Wild needs, but without more changes to the roster, the Wild aren’t contenders yet.