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Marco Rossi Carries the Weight of the Guerin/Brackett Era

via @mnwild on Twitter

Players drafted high in the first round are expected to grow their skills enough to compete in the best sports league in the world. Teams expect them to mature and adapt to the NHL lifestyle. Marco Rossi has the upside to be not only a pro player but one of the league’s best centers someday. The Minnesota Wild will need him to make an impact close to what Kirill Kaprizov has made already. Talk about pressure.

The Wild took Rossi 9th overall in 2020. He’s Brackett’s highest-drafted prospect since the Wild signed him. Experts projected Rossi to be a Top-5 pick, but he slipped to ninth. Eight teams drafted prospects who they thought would make a better impact, regardless of position. So Rossi fell into Brackett’s arms, and Minnesota’s Director of Amateur Scouting presumably lept for joy as the Wild got their guy.

Rossi was an OHL phenom, but what you do in the NHL matters most. However, Rossi was diagnosed with myocarditis in 2020, putting a dent in his development. How will that affect his future in the NHL? So far, so good. After a promising rookie showing in Iowa, many are excited about his potential next to Kaprizov.

Matt Boldy‘s impact doesn’t say much about Brackett and Bill Guerin’s prospect pool. While he’s still considered a prospect, Paul Fenton took him, not Brackett. Chuck Fletcher drafted Kaprizov. Rossi played two NHL games last year and didn’t play another game. While finances were likely the reason Guerin sent down Rossi for the rest of the year, Rossi saw how different the competition is in the NHL compared to the OHL.

The NHL is made to break you. It’s the toughest league to play in the world. In the NHL, you are pushed to the limit. You will need a killer instinct to rise above pressure. Can he handle playing against the top-10 to -20 players in the NHL? If he plays with Kaprizov, who I see as his ideal winger, he will face Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and more household names.

Is Rossi really NHL-ready, though? If he’s really a top-5 talent from his draft class, he should be ready to step in for a top-line role despite myocarditis setting him back, right? While it’s a small sample size, I ran a poll asking Wild fans who watch the Iowa Wild their thoughts on where Rossi should slot.

Seven is a small number, but those seven eyes matter when they’ve actually watched him. 71% felt he’d slot in as the second-line center role with top power play time. It makes sense considering that Ryan Hartman had a good Cinderella year and could duplicate it. Thus, Hartman would be the top-line center.

However, what if Rossi doesn’t outperform Hartman as a center in general? That would raise some eyebrows. The other 29% from the poll believe he’s not suited for top power play minutes and will get time on the second line. For someone taken 9th overall in a good 2020 Draft, not everyone is high on him – at least at the moment.

Dean Evason wants to maintain chemistry and keep the lines balanced. Still, I can’t get behind believing Rossi playing behind Hartman is the best thing for the best prospect representing the NHL’s best prospect pool. No matter who Hartman plays with, he can’t take over a game by himself. Rossi needs to outshine Hartman at his own game.

If Rossi’s going to be playing on his own line with Boldy and Frederick Gaudreau or Tyson Jost, he’ll need to maximize the Top-6 to give the Wild a chance at replacing Kevin Fiala’s offensive production. Minnesota can’t have a successful team if there’s a massive drop-off in production between the top two lines. If Rossi doesn’t make a better impact as a center than Hartman, who is a natural winger, I can’t see how he’ll dominate the league’s best. Hartman shouldn’t be close to what Rossi’s projected to bring to the table as a top prospect.

The point is that Rossi needs to steal Hartman’s job to be worthy of being Minnesota’s next star player. No star player should play behind Hartman. He needs to take the top center spot and not look back. Either that, or he needs to become an instant replacement for Fiala on the second line for the Wild to have a fighting chance. Can Rossi really become a top-5 NHL rookie? He finished seventh in scoring among under-22 players in the AHL, so he does have an opportunity to be a legit Calder candidate.

There are two paths Rossi can take. Will he be Dylan Strome or Mitch Marner?

Both had tremendous hype as prospects in 2015. However, Strome was taken at 3rd overall ahead of Marner, and the Arizona Coyotes forever regret their decision. Strome had so much hype surrounding him as the savior for the Coyotes. But he didn’t make an impact in Arizona, and they later traded him.

Will Rossi follow this path? Let’s just say Rossi will be a much better skater than Strome. Strome was always an average skater and thus, couldn’t impact the game as he would have at a full pace. Rossi will have more speed to navigate.

However, what if everything doesn’t fall into place within the next few years? Another player will have to emerge. But what does it mean for Brackett if his highest-drafted player can’t make an impact? Are prospects who were drafted far later going to be better than Rossi? Statistically, it’s unlikely. What if Guerin extends Hartman to continue being Minnesota’s top center? That’s not a good look for Rossi. It’s up to Rossi to make a Marner-like impact for the Wild to be worthy contenders. Their title hopes and Brackett’s legacy are on the line.

To truly find success, Rossi needs to physically mature as a center. He showed he can produce in a pro league, but he still needs to do more growing. The AHL and NHL are two different animals. Rossi is not like Boldy stepping into the NHL. He will not only need to get by with his talents, speed, and smarts but will need to withstand the NHL’s physicality. He doesn’t have Boldy’s build. Rossi needs to continue being a truck. Rossi will have rough patches because of the transition full-time to the NHL, but will he continue to shake off his OHL habits and adapt? Or will he fold and become the next Strome? We don’t want this to be another Mikael Granlund story.

There’s good reason to be excited for the next hyped prospect to come in to impress. But some people who have seen him play give us reason to be skeptical. How will he respond to the pressure of knowing he’s a make-or-break part of Guerin’s tenure? That he’s a big part of convincing Kaprizov that Minnesota is the best long-term bet to win a championship? This is serious business. Rossi needs to show signs of life for Wild fans to believe the Wild will be for real after a year or two. It’s up to him to make that dream a reality.

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