Welcome back! We know you’ve waited a long time since our last pick so thank you for your patience! If you loved our third-overall selection of Lucas Raymond then you’ve probably been sitting pretty for the past couple of hours and if you hated it then you’ve probably been wringing your hands hoping to see us right the ship at fifth-overall. So without further ado, with the fifth-overall selection in the 2020 NHL entry draft, the Ottawa Senators select, from the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League:
Fans around these parts should be familiar with the skilled centre who has played 109 games in Ottawa over the past two seasons racking up 185 (!) points along the way (and, yes, he looks good in red, white, and black.) A lot of the information I’ll go over in the subsequent paragraphs echoes what Ary wrote in our S7S draft profile piece back in June so please check that article out if you haven’t already.
So, who is Marco Rossi? Rossi hails from Feldkirch, Austria where he played youth hockey until age twelve when he moved up to Switzerland where he tore up every league with his elite offensive production. Rossi also represented his native Austria at the world juniors where he went point-per-game or better at each tournament. As a reward for all of his accomplishments in Europe, the 67s selected Rossi 18th overall in the 2018 CHL import draft and Rossi did not disappoint, scoring 68 goals in Ottawa over two seasons and adding 22 points in 17 post-season games last spring. The OHL named Rossi Most Outstanding Player this season and made Rossi a first-team all-star. Among OHL forwards, Rossi typical ranks between Quinton Byfield (off the board at No. 2) and Cole Perfetti when it comes to 2020 NHL entry draft projections.
In terms of overall selection, Rossi is right on the money at No. 5. Colin’s very thorough rankings have Rossi going as high as No. 4 and no lower than No. 7, averaging at No. 5 overall. Cole Perfetti, for comparison, falls somewhere between No. 5 and 9 according to most sources. Other forwards in this range include Anton Lundell (Liiga) and Alexander Holtz (SHL) both projected to go in the latter-half of the top-ten. So let’s go over how we made this selection.
Going with Lucas Raymond at No. 3 felt bold but there was simply too much to like about the solid, two-way right-winger to turn down even if it meant possibly missing out on Tim Stutzle. That being said, we wouldn’t be leaving the top-five without a bona fide centre, and while we couldn’t steal Byfield, we believe we got one hell of a consolation prize in Rossi. We ranked Rossi ahead of other centres such as Perfetti and Lundell, and while Jamie Drysdale (right defence), Holtz (right winger), and Yaroslav Askarov (goaltender) all play premium positions, we had to take the best player available. It’s an added bonus that the Senators need a top centre and Rossi fills that role.
Name a diminutive forward, a sneaky centre, or an NHLer with connections to Ottawa and odds are, Rossi has drawn comparisons. Different analysts have thrown around the names DeBrincat, Marner, Gaudreau, Point, and Giroux when talking about Rossi. And while he may not become the next Matin St. Louis, Rossi’s floor is at least Jean-Gabriel Pageau with more production. As Ary explained in the aforementioned scouting report, Rossi has done all of the right things to succeed in the NHL despite his smaller frame. He’s a student of the game and trains relentlessly to constantly improve his skating to compensate for his stature.
So what makes Rossi so special and why couldn’t we pass him up at fifth overall? First of all, his aforementioned skating ability. Ary already went into this in depth but it bears repeating that Rossi has elite footwork. Secondly, Rossi has exceptional hands and a beautiful release, as you would expect from someone who has scored at the rate he has throughout his amateur career. Rossi also has superb vision and reads plays very well. He has great awareness and always seems to find the best lanes and opportunities. He’s also very slippery when it comes to shaking off defenders and this should help to alleviate concerns about his size. Rossi’s skating, stick-handling, and vision all work really well to keep him out of trouble and maintain the cycle.
Finally (and this absolutely informed our selections of Raymond and Rossi knowing we could potentially miss out on Stutzle), Rossi, like Raymond, plays very responsibly at both ends of the ice. Neither player sacrifices defence to generate scoring chances. Rossi uses his vision and positioning as well in the defensive phase as he does when creating offensive looks. It should go without saying that players who score at Rossi’s rate and have that kind of defensive awareness don’t very often come out of the OHL ready to make the jump to professional hockey at age 19.
So with rates of production second only to Connor McDavid in our era, why was Rossi available fifth overall? Well, at 5-foot-nine, his size doesn’t help his case, as Byfeild, Raymond, and Stutzle are all larger players. Some still have concerns about Rossi’s ability to perform at the same level when he faces NHL defenders who are that much larger than him.
Secondly, and this may be the biggest knock on Rossi (albeit completely out of his control) Rossi’s age puts him closer to the 2019 draft than the 2020 draft so a lot of analysts look at his production from a draft-year-plus-one valuation when stacking his numbers against the likes of Byfield, Raymond, and Stutzle. For the record, even with the added age, Rossi’s numbers are still elite for the OHL. Some have also pointed to Rossi’s powerplay production relative to even strength and given the slight edge to those other players because they produce more of their offence away from five-on-four action.
Rossi also played for a powerhouse 67s team (whereas Byfield played for a thinner Sudbury club) and some scouts question how much Rossi can produce without a stacked roster around him and with fewer looks on the powerplay. Analysts also point to Rossi’s production against teams with winning records relative to his production against losing teams and argue that he may have padded his stats in a misleading way. For the record, I think all of these concerns are valid and we took all of this into consideration. However, personally, when I think of the way that star players like Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin absolutely pantsed the Senators over the leanest years in Ottawa (especially on the powerplay), I don’t sweat Rossi’s scouting report too much. I expect the best players to globetrot on the worst teams and to dissect their hapless penalty-killers.
When I ask myself: “Does Marco Rossi have the tools to play competitively against the best players in the NHL in the next two years?” The answer is a confident “Yes.”
In Ottawa, Rossi immediately moves to the top of the centre depth chart and becomes the number-one option on the powerplay. This pushes names like Josh Norris and Logan Brown down to the middle-six depending on whether you have forwards like Colin White and Shane Pinto down the middle or on the right wing. Assuming Drake Batherson takes one of those top-two right wing slots and Lucas Raymond the other (with some reps at centre) and all of a sudden Ottawa has a formidable top-nine with Brady Tkachuk lining up beside any of Rossi, Norris, or White; and Alex Formenton and Vitaly Abramov completing the set.
So there you have it. Do you think we made the right pick with Rossi at No. 5? Let us know!
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