No player encapsulates the wealth of talent available to teams picking in the top-10 of the 2020 NHL Draft than Marco Rossi. Despite leading the CHL in scoring with 120 points in 56 games, Rossi is consistently ranked between fourth and seventh in Colin’s consolidated rankings of public draft lists, and as you’ll read in this article, that’s through no fault of his own. He’s a near flawless player — reliable in all-three zones, the hockey sense to consistently make the right decision look effortless, and the skill to match the top players in the class.
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Ottawa 67's||OHL||5'9"||179 lbs||4 - 8||#6 (NA)|
Born in the small Austrian town of Feldkirch, Rossi grew up playing most of his youth hockey across the Rhine in the Rheintal and Küsnacht areas of Switzerland — a country with a well-developed youth hockey system at the U15, U17, and U20 level.
To say Rossi was among the best of his peers would be an understatement, as he was able to produce at a point-per-game pace in the U15 league from ages 10 to 12 — an incredible feat when you think about what puberty looks like for boys at those ages — and moved up to play against U17s at the age of 14. By the time the 2017-18 season rolled around, Rossi had already led both of Switzerland’s U17 leagues in scoring, and at 15-years-old, finished the season ranked fifth league-wide in points-per-game at the U20 level. He even squeaked in seven points in 18 games against men in the tier II NLB.
At this point in his career, Rossi was also at the point where he was leading his country internationally — helping Austria to back-to-back silver medals at D1B U18s. Yes: that’s a level below what Tim Stützle and the Germans played at, but that Rossi was able to not just hold his own but instead, lead his team in scoring in these tournaments are factoids worth mentioning.
It became clear that for Rossi to advance further in his development, he was either going to have to earn his spot in the NLA and play against men, or apply as an import to North America. He did the latter, was selected 18th overall by the 67s in 2018. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, who wrote a wonderful profile of Rossi’s first season in Ottawa, noted that the 67s landing Rossi was in part because of Nico Hischier’s recommendation of Andre Tourigny, where the former Sens assistant helped the Swiss import be named a first overall pick. While Rossi might not go that high, he’s become the 67s most dominant player since Tyler Toffoli.
We’ll dig more into Rossi’s CHL numbers in the data section, but briefly: Rossi’s 2018-19 season ranks 20th all-time in points-per-game among Draft-1 players, and his 2019-20 season ranked seventh, ahead of names like Jason Spezza, Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, Dylan Strome, Taylor Hall, and John Tavares.
What makes Rossi so effective?
In short: his hockey sense. It’s likely the biggest reason why Rossi was able to play as an underager for so many years in Switzerland, especially being in a smaller body, and it’s the key to his effectiveness in all three zones. Last year, Rossi was already getting accolades from OHL coaches as one of the smartest players in his conference, so it came as no surprise to see him build on that recognition this year en route to being named the league’s most outstanding player.
Where we see that hockey sense the most vividly is in Rossi’s vision with the puck. His head is always on a swivel as he looks to utilize his teammates in the most efficient way, and he’s effective at applying his other tools to get him in the best position to set-up a linemate. While he’s always looking to move the puck into high-danger areas, what strikes me about Rossi is that he doesn’t force passes in the same way Stützle and Raymond do. Instead, he patiently waits for another opportunity to arise or directly manipulates defenders to abandon passing lanes and open up cross-seam opportunities.
Love this sequence. Wrist shot. Picks up his own rebound. Skates around the zone/controls the cycle. Finds an open man outside of the perimeter. pic.twitter.com/RbE7Kw4dcx— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) March 18, 2020
Some may look at his 5-foot-9 frame and think that would limit his NHL ceiling, but in fact, I think it’s led to him developing a versatility that will only help him translate his game to the NHL. I’m also put at ease by Rossi’s Pageau-esque attitude with and without the puck, where he plays with an edge and a dogged determination to be better than his opponents. He doesn’t shy away from contact, and often, he’s the one instigating it as he’s driving to dangerous areas of the ice to battle with defenders night in and night out.
His lower body strength reminds me of that picture of Martin St. Louis’ thighs, with a strong centre of gravity that allows him to absorb contact with ease. Take a look at the clip below from March 2019 against Florida’s 6-foot-5, 215 pound behemoth, Serron Noel:
This strength translates to a powerful skating stride, which Rossi can use to generate some separation at the OHL level. While he doesn’t have the same top gear as Quinton Byfield, Rossi’s made strides with his acceleration. I’ve seen reports call him a “four-directional skater”, noting that he can cut in any direction with speed. When you combine an ability to mix speeds, a brain that allows him to deceive defenders, and sweet hands in tight, you can see why Rossi is such a tantalizing offensive player on the rush. On the powerplay, this is only more apparent. He often circles around between the top of the zone and his strong-side half-wall, looking to thread passes into the slot or the opposite side face-off circle for one-timers.
It’s tools like these that allow him to win 50/50 battles with the puck and play the details of the game that will allow him to be a trusted defensive centre — if coaches want to use him that way — at the next level. So many of the opportunities he generates for the 67s start with a nice defensive play — like an active stick check or smart bit of physical contact — before he quickly turns the puck up the ice. He was one of the OHL’s best players on faceoffs this season despite lining up against other 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old centres.Rossi has the NHL-calibre polish at 18-years-old that many players never get to.
For a thorough video breakdown of Rossi’s game, I recommend reading Sam Happi’s profile of him on DraftGeek.
Let’s start with the numbers we’re all familiar with. I made mention earlier about the historical comparisons for Rossi’s Draft-1 and draft-eligible OHL production, but let me be clear: Rossi’s peers are other top-five picks, including first-overall players like John Tavares and Taylor Hall. He had that level of production while playing centre against top competition and being reliable defensively. Much of the argument against Rossi has to do with the fact that he played on the CHL’s best team, but it’s clear that Rossi was the straw that turned the 67s drink. Case in point: when Rossi was on the ice at even-strength, the 67s scored a ridiculous 74.64% of the goals. When he was off? 58%. While that latter number is still sterling, especially for a team without their best player on the ice, Rossi’s impact (EVGF% Rel) ranked eighth league-wide — in-between Cole Perfetti and Quinton Byfield.
Rossi also ranked third league-wide in even-strength primary points per game — so it’s not like he was padding his totals with secondary assists — and fourth in primary points per game on the powerplay. He’s a balanced offensive threat.
Moving onto Brown’s tracking data: Rossi, like defenceman Jamie Drysdale before him, excels at shot assists — passes that directly result in a shot — and expected primary assists (xA1), a measure of danger for each shot assist. Among his peers in the three CHL leagues and the USNDP, Rossi was peerless, ranking in the 98th and 99th percentile for those two metrics, respectively. If what you want in a passer is someone who translate those attempts into dangerous opportunities and often, goals, Rossi’s your guy. It might not always look as sexy as Tim Stützle or Lucas Raymond’s assists, but they get the job done.
The rest of Rossi’s game doesn’t quite to be at the same level as Lafrenière’s or Byfield’s, though, with Rossi ranking just above-average (65th to 75th percentile) as opposed to at the top of the dataset in terms of his entries, exits, and involvement in defensive plays. This could reflect Rossi’s increased team quality, as he might not have had to involve himself in the same extent as the others who were primary drivers of their team’s respective offences, but something to note nonetheless.
The one ‘flag’ that’s been circulating among the scouting community is whether Rossi’s production has been padded. The folks at HockeyProspect.com conducted an analysis of a player’s stats against ‘top teams’ versus ‘bottom teams’ and found that among all the top prospects, Rossi had the biggest discrepancy in his production. He scored at a 2.75 points-per-game rate against ‘bottom teams’ and a 1.27 points-per-game rate against ‘top teams’. I don’t think you can fault a player for running roughshod against bottom-feeders, but it’s something to note when considering what to think of Rossi’s point-production in the NHL. I think it’s clear that Rossi does so many of the little things right that he’ll produce, in addition to providing value in a multitude of other ways for a team driving to drive play positively up the ice, so he’ll be an interesting case study to see whether this metric means anything in terms of predicting future point totals.
We’ve touched on Rossi’s biggest drawback relative to his peers, and it’s something he can’t control: the relative quality of his team. Navigating how a player will translate their game to a new context is always the trickiest part of scouting, and it’s something a team will want to get right if they’re looking to draft Rossi at 3-5 instead of 6-8, especially considering the quality of talent around him. The 67s were also a top team in the CHL last season when Rossi also put up high-end production relative to his age, and I think there’s a much larger difference with his absurd jump in production than the team’s improvement.
The other drawback that Rossi has no control over is his age. If Rossi was born eight days earlier, he... likely would’ve been a top-five pick in the 2019 Draft instead of this year’s, so again: it’s something to take into account when comparing him to the much younger Byfield, or even Lucas Raymond.
Finally, for a player so intelligent, there have been multiple instances where Rossi will sometimes take a boneheaded penalty — one with no benefit to his team. He was suspended for five games earlier this season after a dangerous hit into the boards, and sometimes, his feistiness comes out in a way that can be detrimental to his team.
The Fit with Ottawa
From October to January last season, Marco Rossi was only held pointless once in the OHL, and had more three-point games than one-point games. It’s play like this that had The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy note that Rossi is the most NHL-ready of the top OHLers in this class — in part because of the smart, effective game he plays with and without the puck. While he might not see the points translate right away, they’ll eventually come; in the meantime, a coach could reasonably play Rossi anywhere in their lineup and he’d do the right things to drive play forward when he’s on the ice.
That type of player will be appealing for the Ottawa Senators right now. The team has assembled a deep, young talent pool primarily made up of players ages 20 to 22 and will likely be peaking in the next couple of seasons. That Rossi, at age 21, could already have a couple years of NHL experience under his belt when the team is ready to be a playoff contender works well with this cycle. When you add in the fact that, outside of Shane Pinto, the team is lacking in detail-oriented players in the middle of the ice, and that Logan Brown’s projection is shakier than ever, Rossi’s consistency and reliability will appear like a breath of fresh air.
The Senators should also have the most research on Rossi. He plays locally, their ex-assistant coach has been his head coach for the past two years, and they’ve known that they’d have multiple top picks in this draft for quite some time.
As we always say: we aren’t scouts, but these people are. Support their work!
“He’s a phenomenal player. Phenomenal. A few teams that have picked up on it. I’m biased but I think he’s the best player in our league. It’s not often you’ve got a player on your team who is the best offensive player, the best defensive player, the best guy on faceoffs, the best guy on the power play, the best guy on the penalty kill and probably your No. 1 shootout shooter, [...] and the thing is he doesn’t cheat, so as the game goes along, he takes over. The No. 1 thing for me is his skating — which was a concern for some people — is phenomenal. He’s just continued to improve. He is obsessed with getting better. Some guys are interested in getting better, he’s obsessed. If I told him to eat a pound of sunflower seeds every day because it would help him get to the NHL, he’d be right on it. It’s only going to continue. You hear this sort of stuff about Sidney Crosby or Shea Weber when they were juniors, it’s almost like a disorder, the striving to get better. I see the same thing in Marco, nothing’s going to stop him.”
— Ottawa 67s GM James Boyd, via Scott Wheeler, The Athletic ($)
“The Austrian-born pivot is one of the most dynamic players we’ve seen in along time. The OHL scoring leader is a dynamic play-driver, Rossi displays fantastic patience and vision in-order to make the best play available. His passing vision is second to none, and can pass people open like it’s nobody’s business. Rossi has a rather good shot that gets shadowed by his playmaking ability, off the rush his shot is DANGEROUS. Even though he isn’t big in stature, the dangles and balance make it very hard to knock him off the puck. He’s a stallion that is a point-producing machine.”
— Ashley Glover
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