There have been just eight skaters who were born in Austria and played in the National Hockey League per Hockey-Reference. Today’s profile is about someone who will at least be the ninth and could have a shot at knocking off Thomas Vanek as the most productive Austrian-born player in the NHL. And our favorite hockey team can benefit from this. He could very much be available for the New Jersey Devils’ first pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, whenever and however it is held. If you follow the Devils’ prospects, then you may already know who it is because he is the teammate of Mitchell Hoelscher, Nikita Okhotyuk, and Kevin Bahl. This is the draft profile for Ottawa 67’s center Marco Rossi.
Who is Marco Rossi?
Marco Rossi is the son of defenseman Michael Rossi, who had a professional career in Austria. His son blossomed at the youth levels and was moved up quick through the GCK Lions’ system. In 2017-18, Rossi was a standout for their U-20 team, appeared in 18 games and put up 7 points with GCK Lions’ senior team in National League B, and appeared for Austria’s U-18 and U-20 teams in Division 1 of their age groups. He garnered the attention of Canadian major junior scouts and Ottawa took a chance on him in the import draft at 18th overall. These are indeed chances as it is not known whether the player would come over at all, much less transition well to the North American game and living in a new environment as a teenager. Ottawa hit it big with Rossi. Extremely big.
Rossi jumped right in with the 67’s and was one of the best rookies in a very stacked rookie class in the OHL in 2018-19. He was named to the OHL Second All-Rookie team behind forwards Quinton Byfield (CJ profiled him here), Cole Perfetti, and Jacob Perrault. Rossi finished 2018-19 with 29 goals and 36 assists for 65 points, sixth among all 67’s players that season. Only Perfetti put up more points among all rookies that season. The 67’s used Rossi as a center and he won approximately 54.1% of his draws whilst taking 165 shots for an average of over three per game. Rossi was a monster for the 67’s in the 2019 playoffs with six goals and sixteen assists as the 67’s fell short in the finals against Guelph. No rookie came close to Rossi in terms of playoff scoring, not even Perfetti’s 14 in 16 games. It was a very fine first campaign for the 5’9”, 179 pound center from Feldkirch, Austria per Elite Prospects. Any questions about his size or how he would adjust to the OHL were answered. Rossi was not done yet.
Rossi was born on September 23, 2001, which makes him one of the older players of the 2020 draft class. That may be a factor if he was in the mix with a lot of other draft eligible major junior players slated to go later in the draft. Rossi produced at such a high level that even that was not much of a factor either. Rossi did not just improve. He flat out dominated in 2019-20. Rossi led his team, his league, and all of major junior hockey with 39 goals, 81 assists, and 120 points in 56 games. Yes, Rossi out-produced even Alexis Lafrenière, who played in four fewer games, by eight points. Rossi improved in every basic stat at the OHL site. Had the OHL season not ended early, Rossi had a chance to double his impressive rookie campaign production. It goes beyond points. Rossi shot the puck more (193 shots, 3.45 per game) and won more draws too (he won 58.5% of his faceoffs). Per Pick224, it is estimated he played over 22 minutes per game – an increase from the estimated 18 he played last season. Rossi played more and did more with that time. It would have been very difficult to ignore him even if you paid the slightest attention to Ottawa, the OHL, or Canadian major junior hockey. He was that much of a point machine and no one came close – not even the already-drafted or overage players.
Pick224 is a great site for prospects as it breaks down production even further. The magnitude of Rossi’s magnificent 2019-20 season is even clearer from what I pulled from it. It shows that Rossi’s 120 points were not boosted by secondary assists all that much. He put up 58 primary points at even strength (31 of them were goals!); only four players in the CHL had more and the difference is just a handful of points. Rossi maintained a primary point (goal and primary assist) per game rate above 1.03. His total primary point per game rate was 1.53, second only to Lafrenière among 2020 draft eligibles. This was not a player picking up a lot of “cheap” points. He just was that much involved. Perhaps the most stunning stat are the goals for and against Ottawa when Rossi was on the ice at even strength. When Rossi was on the ice, the 67’s scored 103 and allowed just 35. Without him, the 67’s scored 90 and allowed 70. Needless to say, Rossi had a humongous impact on the 67’s. He was arguably the best player on arguably the best team in the OHL.
He also may be done with the OHL. Per TPE Hockey, Rossi may be aiming to go professional in the NHL or in Europe next season. Rossi did not go to major junior hockey on loan from a European professional team so I believe he is not eligible to play in the AHL until he is 20. No matter. After 120 points in 56 games with the 67’s, I can understand that he is ready for a challenge at the next level. How would dominating the ‘O’ for another season help his development? He can better refine his skillset against professionals whilst also bulking up in 2020-21. The question of whether it will be against pros in the NHL or pros in another men’s league could be answered by who takes him and how they evaluate them when the 2020 NHL Draft takes place.
Where is Marco Rossi Ranked?
One thing does not need to be answered: the people and services who follow and rank processes think very highly of Rossi. He is a sure-fire top-ten prospect for 2020:
- #5 – EliteProspects Top 31 (February 2020 ranking)
- #8 – Future Considerations (March 1, 2020 ranking)
- #7 – McKeen’s (Mid-season rankings from January 18, 2020 via EliteProspects)
- #7 – International Scouting Services (March 2020 ranking via EliteProspects)
- #8 – HockeyProspect (January 16, 2020 ranking)
- #7 – TSN.ca – Bob McKenzie (Mid-season ranking from January 30, 2020)
- #5 – TSN.ca – Craig Button (January 15, 2020 ranking)
- #5 – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst (March 2, 2020 ranking)
- #5 – NHL.com – Mike G. Morreale (March 6, 2020 ranking)
- #5 – Sportsnet – Sam Cosentino (March 4, 2020 ranking)
- #5 – The Hockey Writers – Josh Bell (February 28, 2020 ranking)
- #7 – The Hockey Writers – Andrew Forbes (March 14, 2020 ranking)
- #8 – The Hockey Writers – Larry Fisher (March 9, 2020 ranking)
- #9 – Raw Charge – Lauren Kelly (Mid-season, January 22, 2020 ranking)
- #8 – Defending Big D – Derek Neumeier (Mid-season, January 20, 2020 ranking)
No one has Rossi as a top-five prospect at the time of collecting these rankings. He has been consistently behind Lafrenière, Byfield, Stützle, and Raymond with some variation beyond them (Holtz, Perfetti, Drysdale). However, there is no doubt he is among the cream of the crop of the 2020 NHL draft prospects. Since New Jersey could very well have the the sixth overall pick in 2020, these rankings suggest that Rossi should be on their radar. If not, then what people have been writing about Rossi should absolutely make their scouts aware of the Austrian Ace.
What Others Say About Marco Rossi
Before jumping into what others have written about Rossi’s game, let us consider the opinions of the coaches across the Ontario Hockey League. On March 26, 2020, the OHL Coaches Poll results were announced on the league’s official website. Rossi ranked in the following categories compared to other OHL Eastern Conference players:
- Smartest Player – First and finished first in 2018-19
- Best Playmaker – First
- Best on Faceoffs – Second to Zach Gallant, an overager who was in the top three for this category for now four seasons.
- Best Defensive Forward – Second to Kyle MacLean, who came in first in 2018-19
- Best Penalty Killer – Third to MacLean and Jacob Paquette
- Best Shootout Shooter – First
What stuck out to me was that he was ranked highly by the other coaches in two categories that are all about defense. It is not a surprise that the player with 81 assists would voted the best playmaker among his peers. Being that player and names as one of the top penalty killers and defensive forwards in his conference is a rather impressive combination. That he also finished first as a shootout taker further suggests that he has some flair with his shot. Above all else, being named the smartest player in the conference as a rookie and again is a real feat. It would be one thing for Ottawa’s staff to pump the tires of one of their players. Getting this kind of love from opposing coaches adds more legitimacy to how good Rossi was in 2019-20.
(As an example of one of Ottawa’s staff pumping the tires of one of their players, here is an audio clip from Ottawa 67’s GM comparing Rossi to Patrice Bergeron back in December 2019 on TSN Radio, Ottawa 1200. That is a rather bold and yet not a totally offbase comparison.)
That out of the way, let us get to what others say about Rossi’s game. First up is this profile by The Draft Analyst, Steve Kournianos. He wrote up this profile on his site back on November 29, 2019 in the midst of Rossi steamrolling OHL defenses and goaltenders (44 points in 19 games). As usual, it is worth reading the whole thing. Here are two parts from it I want to highlight. First, this is what Kournianos wrote about his skating:
Rossi is an excellent skater. He has a quick first step and can accelerate into open ice with the intent to shift gears and explode into a gap either forward or laterally. He has strong balance and edges, which come into play when he enters the zone against an aggressive defender who tries to fix him to the outside. Rossi can take a hard shove or two and maintain possession, and an opponent who overcommits runs the risk of getting outpaced and the vacant slot to his rear. Rossi is at his best off the rush, where he uses multi-directional quickness to confuse or intimidate coverage. If you asked OHL goalies who the last guy they want to see heading their way with a numbers advantage, a good chunk probably would nominate Rossi.
There is generally an assumption that for smaller players, they better be able to skate well. Skating is not at all an issue for Rossi. It should also reassure some concerned about his durability that Kournianos noted that he can take contact and not immediately lose the puck. It should also reassure those sick of rush plays leading to not much of anything that Rossi apparently excels in those situations.
Second, this is more or less a criticism from Kournianos but with a well-put point at the end:
He hustles on the backcheck and has a quick stick to loot unassuming puck rushers before transitioning the other way. Like most young forwards, Rossi can be guilty of puck gazing and allow opponents to get a step on him towards the net. He also isn’t physical in a classic sense, and Rossi’s upper-body strength isn’t enough to win many board battles. Of course, the quickness of feet and stick are in concert with his sharp processor, and gaining inside positioning against bigger players is more of a result of anticipation rather than brute strength.
It probably does not surprise many that a 5’9” guy officially weighing less than 180 pounds is not physical. However, Kournianos correctly notes that getting position on an opposing player is as much of a result of reading the play and positioning yourself accordingly. Much more than just being bigger and/or beefier than the opponent. Rossi can do that but this does read that he could stand to make some refinements to his play on defense. The sort of refinements that come with experience more so than needing to learn a fundamental of off-the-puck play.
That stated, Kournianos’ profile is glowing about Rossi’s offensive game from his puckhandling, shooting, passing, and reading the play. This is echoed in Ben Kerr’s mini-profile of Rossi in his mid-season rankings at the Last Word on Hockey. This was written about Rossi on December 14, 2019, when he had him 10th among the 2020 prospects. This part of it stuck out to me:
Rossi has excellent hands. He creates space by combining his quick fakes and with his quick cuts and changes in speed. Rossi is talented as both a playmaker and a shooter. He has a quick wrist shot with an excellent release as well as the passing skills to set up his linemates and make them better. His ability to extend plays through his work down low really lets him take advantage of these playmaking abilities. He gives his teammates additional time to get open for a tape-to-tape pass.
Combined with Kournianos’ profile, Rossi’s offensive game clearly is multi-dimensional. He is good on and off the puck. Kerr notes that he is not at all shy about going into the “dirty areas” to keep the offensive situation going. He is also not at all shy about hanging onto the puck to allow others to get in position to make a play – which does put himself at risk of a check, a steal, or something go awry. As a whole, Kerr’s short summary of Rossi’s game suggests he is a brave player in addition to a talented one.
Since Rossi does play in the OHL, it is necessary that we visit one of the essential blogs for any prospect coverage: Brock Otten’s OHL Prospects. The guru of the OHL has connections to the scouting scene and reaches out to them throughout the season for their take on the various OHL players. With the OHL season effectively done, I am curious to see whether he will fast-track his final ranking session with the media and scouts. In his mid-season poll that was posted on February 17, 2020, Rossi ended up third among the OHL draft eligible players. He was just ahead of Cole Perfetti and only behind Quinton Byfield and Jamie Drysdale. Rossi’s votes ranged from first (!) to fourth. As usual, the quotes from the voters are the real meat to dig into. Here are a few as a sample before you go forth and read the whole thing.
“I don’t care what anyone says about his size, he plays bigger, stronger and harder than many 6’3 guys. The vision and playmaking ability are serious. The stride is quick and powerful. He’s tight away from the puck and plays all over the ice. I could see him in the NHL next fall.” – Cam Robinson
Cam Robinson of Dobber Prospects raised a good point. Rossi is not big, the OHL is not, well, short on big players, and Rossi still ruled the league. That speaks to his toughness as much as the level of skill.
“I’m still higher on Rossi than most. I personally have him in a 2-5 group with Lucas Raymond and Tim Stutzle. He’s a dangerous player who can play both around the perimeter and in tight, he can score and set up a play, and he’s a two-way force. When he’s on the ice at even strength, the 67s are scoring over 5 goals per 60 minutes, nearly a full goal higher than both Byfield and Lafreniere. He also has the lowest goals against rates of the three. The only knock on him is his discipline at times and size, but I’m not the type to be afraid of size. Rossi is a tremendous player and could be a steal should he slip, but I see that as more and more unlikely over time.” – Will Scouch
Will Scouch watches a ton of hockey and tracks quite a bit of it. When he says he high on a player, he is not saying it just for views and attention. He can and does back it up. And if you ask him nicely on his usually-Wednesday night live streams, he can break it down. So saying he considers him in the group with Raymond and Stutzle is high praise.
Scouch also does bring up discipline, which is not a point I have seen raised much for Rossi. Rossi did serve a five-game suspension for boarding at the beginning of 2019-20. Regrettable as his hit on Cedric Peters was, I am not aware of any further incidents. However, with just 40 PIM and no further suspensions, I’m tempted to write that as a one-off incident.
As a last sample from Otten’s post, here is quote from the ever-present Anonymous.
“Marco is a force right now. He’s dominant shift-to-shift in all three zones and probably the best two-way player in junior hockey. He’s not just going to stay at centre at the NHL level, he’s going to excel there. I can’t say enough about the kid — I’m not worried about his size at all.” – Anonymous
I cannot hazard a guess as to who Anonymous is, but it would not shock me if he or she was working for a team or a big-name service. Clearly, this person may not disagree with any comparisons to Bergeron or Datsyuk.
Over at The Hockey Writers, Josh Bell – who ranked Rossi fifth in his recent draft rankings – wrote a post on March 12 claiming that Rossi could be the best Austrian player ever. It is a post filled with praise for Rossi, but Bell does break it down into specific aspects of his game that led him to this conclusion. This part of it about his shooting. Bell praises his snapshot, but he notes this:
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.
This is an excellent thing to read about any prospect’s game. I would have a concern if they had a fantastic wrist shot but primarily used it and nothing but it. Even if it was effective, there may be situations where it would not be ideal. It may not be so effective with bigger, faster, and better opponents. Reading that Rossi can do a lot more than just use his snapshot or use any one shot is a plus in my view. It will help him out in the various offensive situations he will likely find himself at the next level.
Lastly for this section, Mark Schieg at The Hockey Writers posted up a profile on Rossi on March 27. It is not as praise-worthy as Bell’s post, but Schieg also was not trying to explain why he think he will be the best ever player from his country. Schieg liked a lot of Rossi’s game. He also talked to Rossi for a bit and some of his teammates ahead of this profile. This part of it interested me, which features a New Jersey Devil prospect:
What makes Rossi scary good is how effective he is defensively. As his teammate Kevin Bahl said to me, Rossi can protect the puck and is deceptively strong with the puck. Bahl said he can’t knock Rossi off the puck in drills. So if you had any question about size and strength here, let that sink in.
The second paragraph here astounded me. Kevin Bahl is a 6’7” , 240 pound beast of a young man. I would hope he is not going 100% to try to knock Rossi down in drills, but if he is saying he could not do it, then I am really not concerned about others doing it to Rossi. This short paragraph follows Schieg stating that Rossi can do a lot of things on the ice, praising his skating, his speed, his patience, and his vision. The only issue Schieg brought up was whether he would make it in the NHL as a center. Schieg is not so concerned but the decision-makers at the NHL level could be. Despite that, it does not deter Schieg from stating that he is one of the best prospects in 2020.
There was a lot of praise and a lot of different people pointing to Rossi’s speed, skating, vision, shot, and defensive play as pluses. They also went out of their way to note that his strength was also, well, a strength. While there could be some necessary refinements that will come with adding muscle and gaining experience, there were not many minuses pointed out. Usually, there would be one or two that would pop up consistently from others. Rossi does not really seem to have anything major. Hence, he is seen as one of the top prospects in the 2020 NHL Draft.
A Little Video
Of course, reading about a player is not the same as seeing the player do his job. Rossi wears #23 for the 67’s and there is plenty of video on the player. I will highlight three for your viewing pleasure.
First is a review of the prospect by Yannick St-Pierre, who runs the Draft Dynasty channel on Youtube. He covered Rossi in this video from November 30, 2019. What I really liked about his review is that he had clips for every aspect of his game that he discussed and they were not all highlights. I like a highlight video as much as the next fan, but when discussing prospects, I appreciate seeing clips where the player does the right thing even if does not yield the right result.
St-Pierre put in plenty of moments where Rossi made a great read, a great zone exit and/or zone entry, and even helping on defense. There also more than enough clips to show that Rossi is not at all afraid to take the puck to the net and make plays in tight situations. I also noticed that Rossi tended to play a lot with Austin Keating and Joseph Garreffa. Perhaps more so than with fellow 2020 draft prospect Jack Quinn.
Second is a highlights video. From PuckProspects, this is 11:10 of Rossi making plays and/or finishing a lot of them for the 67’s in 2019-20. It even includes some shootout goals too. It is a fun watch if nothing else.
Of course, I took more away from it than just fun. As indicated in St-Pierre’s video, Rossi’s passes were just on point. Some were simple and others were just inch-perfect. It is one thing to read a teammate as being open, it is another execute them and when successful, great things happened for the 67’s. Rossi’s shot release was quick with the puck just often flying from his stickblade towards the net. I also noticed that he tended to play on the left side on the power play, looking for seams to pass through. Again, he could fit the puck through tight windows and when they connected, beautiful things happened for Ottawa.
Third is a shift-by-shift video from NHL Prospect Center. This covers Rossi’s shifts from the January 31, 2020 game between Ottawa and Hamilton. The title says it’s January 2 (or February 1 for another read of it), but either would be incorrect as Ottawa played Kingston on January 2 and were off on February 1. No matter, it is a game from this past season and a game where Rossi had a goal, two assists, and three shots on net. He also officially went 10-for-21 on faceoffs which is not that hot, but it was what it was.
Still, you can see a lot of what the people have said about Rossi in this 26:15 long video. He plays a ton and in many different situations for the 67’s. He is quick. He does go to the net and he does not shy from contact. He helps off the puck whilst also being patient with the puck. And, of course, he is productive as evidenced by his three-point third period. It is a good representation of what he brings to the table, so to speak.
An Opinion of Sorts
While Ottawa 67’s GM compares him to Bergeron and Ottawa 67’s play by play announcer Kenny Walls compares him to Datsyuk, I have a different vibe. He reminds me two other players who were thought to be too small and turned out to be a dynamite player at both ends of the rink. A real dynamo in possession as well as a producer. Rossi reminds me of both Zach Parise and Mathew Barzal (whom we wanted in 2015). Sure, Rossi is a little shorter than both and he may not be that strong down low as Parise (yet) but a lot of what I read and see out of Rossi at the OHL level reminds me of the explanations of why it was shocking that Parise and Barzal slipped in their respective drafts. Both players went on to have great careers. Parise did go on to have a fantastic career at left wing, with his best years being with the Devils. Barzal is the top forward on the Islanders. At their peaks, they were just fantastic on the puck. I am reminded of both when I see clips of Rossi or read about how hard he works and how hard it is to play against him given his versatile skillset.
And if you are a Devils fan reading this – and you should be, this is a Devils blog – then you should be not at all concerned about his height. Not after witnessing several great Devils who were officially 5’11” or shorter such as Parise, Sergei Brylin, Pat Verbeek, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Kyle Palmieri, John Madden, Brian Rafalski, and Mark Johnson among others. Besides, if you seen the clips of Rossi, then you would have seen fight off and fight through contact to keep plays going.
What puts Rossi over the top of other forward prospects is the praise he gets for his defensive game. Defense may be teachable but someone who gets a lot of it right at age 18 is already ahead of the curve. Reading and seeing that Rossi can contribute through applying pressure, back checking, and making zone exits happen to help his defense will help him get a spot on a team sooner rather than later in pro hockey. Whereas NHL coaches struggle with some young players because they can be exposed in defensive situations, this may not be an issue for Rossi going forward. I believe that is why he is deservedly ranked among the top players in this year’s draft class.
I also believe the Devils should be more familiar with him than the other 2020 draft prospects. There are three Devils prospects on his team. Just by keeping tabs on their own players, someone would have seen #23 light it up for the 67’s. They can call up Hoelscher, Okhotyuk, and/or Bahl and download what they can about Rossi. They can even call up Michael Vukojevic of Kitchener and ask him what was it like to play against Rossi. It may seem trite to assume that the Devils will go for Rossi because of his connection with the 67’s. But Rossi appears to be the real deal compared with other prospects. I see it as an edge that other teams may not have when doing their research on various draft eligible players.
Clearly, I am a big fan of what I have read and seen from Rossi. So much so that I do not think would be outrageous if he ends up going third overall. After Lafrenière and Byfield, third through tenth overall could go in a lot of different directions. Assuming the New Jersey Devils are drafting sixth overall, then there are few ways for them to not come away with a great prospect. I think Rossi would be a great choice for the Devils if he is available. The combination of his speed, two-way play, passing, and shooting is just too good to pass up or pass on because he is not two inches taller. He appears to have a skillset that comes at a premium in this league. He appears to be ready for a tougher challenge than major junior hockey, perhaps even in the NHL. I do not doubt it at this point. If he ends up as Austria’s answer to Bergeron or Datsyuk or Parise or Barzal or some other sub-six-foot forward who is super talented, then that would be utterly fantastic for the Devils.
To turn a phrase from Will Scouch, if you prefer Drysdale, Holtz, Perfetti, or even Anton Lundell over Rossi, then that is fine; we can have that discussion. It very much is a discussion at this point. I may even end up agreeing with you. How picks #3 through #10 will transpire will likely come down to what a team prefers more than whether one prospect is better than another one. For all we know, Rossi will be gone before the Devils will get to have their first round pick. He is talented enough in both ends of the rink to warrant being a top-five pick in this top-heavy 2020 draft class.