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Should Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy Play on the Same Line?

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Fans were already excited about the future entering the inaugural Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase. The team has assembled a wealth of top prospects, and many were on display at TRIA Rink last weekend. The State of Hockey was particularly salivating to see first-round picks Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy.

Anyone who watched the tournament stopped being excited for the future, and started getting excited for the present. Rossi and Boldy put on an absolute show over the weekend, scoring a couple of goals each.

The Minnesota Wild has had its fair share of top prospects come into prospect camps and tournaments over the years — Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Alex Tuch, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Jordan Greenway, to name a few. Many performed fine in these exhibitions, but rarely looked dominant.

Rossi and Boldy dominated. They’ve been on a mission to make the Wild out of training camp, and they certainly helped their chances. Beyond how good they looked, though, is how intriguing is how great they looked together. Minnesota put their two star prospects on their top line, and the results were instant and dazzling.

Whenever one of them got you out of your seat, you could rewind the tape and find the other sparking the play. Sometimes two high-end players can have difficulties working together, with both wanting the only puck on the ice. This wasn’t the case. Both love having the puck, but are great at finding soft spots near the net when they don’t. Since they’re also great passers, whoever has possession can find the other for easy scoring chances.

Rossi noted the instant connection between them, telling Michael Russo on Monday’s Straight From the Source podcast, “Last week I met him for the first time… but on the ice, we have really good chemistry. We always try to find each other with some really good passes.”

10K Rinks recently published an article detailing “ideal” lines for the upcoming season. In it, they had both Rossi and Boldy on the roster, but on separate lines. The thought was that Minnesota has great, playmaking NHLers on the roster who could slowly bring along the duo. After this weekend, though, they should consider putting Rossi and Boldy on the same line.

Admittedly, it would be an aggressive move. Young players often have difficulty earning the trust of coaches, mostly because they typically need time to adjust to the NHL. On the offensive side, things that work in juniors and college don’t always translate to the pros. Rookies can also struggle with defending bigger, stronger, faster players in the NHL.

You can shelter a rookie by putting them with established veterans, but putting two on a line leaves them much more vulnerable to growing pains.

Does that mean it can’t work? Let’s take a quick look at history. Here’s every instance since the 2007-08 season of a team that’s had multiple rookie forwards that were in their age-20 seasons or younger and scored more than 0.5 points per game, and how they performed controlling play at 5-on-5:

Surprisingly, playing high-end rookies together has worked out pretty well. The only duo of this group to not control at least half of the expected goal share was Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, who were still one of the best duos on an awful Edmonton Oilers team. Even when having to make adjustments and deal with the occasional rookie mistake, these duos often gave teams enough in the reward column to make up for the risk.

Now, this is a bit of an unrepresentative sample of rookies. As you can see, it’s pretty rare for a team to have two rookies who are this young in significant roles. So the players on this list are going to tend to be great to begin with. And teams with multiple impact rookies are usually picking high in the draft, meaning they’re bad teams with not many other strong roster players.

But there’s no denying that Rossi and Boldy have a chance to make it into that rarified air. They’re consensus top-20 NHL prospects, and might even have been higher were it not for Rossi’s health concerns. Expectations should still be tempered somewhat, but both could absolutely crack the half-point per game threshold this year.

If nothing else, the fact that Rossi and Boldy have shown great chemistry gives Minnesota options. For example, if they look like they belong in the NHL, but both aren’t ready for top-line assignments, they can pair them on a third line to wreak havoc on softer matchups. Or Minnesota could build a second power play unit around the two rookies, giving opposing penalty kills no rest when Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala come off the ice.

They’ll have to keep up this play in training camp, of course, but Rossi and Boldy are well on their way to making it impossible for the Wild to send them to Iowa. As excited as fans were to see them, the team has to be intrigued and impressed by their dominant performances. They not only delivered on the hype, but they flashed potential of being an excellent battery in the NHL. Get excited to see it again, because it’s difficult to imagine Minnesota not trying that look this season.

Thanks to Evolving-Hockey and Stathead for the data used in this article.

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