Austria is far from a hockey power, but Marco Rossi wants to change that. Rossi will be just the fifth player from his home country selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, but he’s already projecting to be one of the best.
A playmaking centre with shifty hands, Rossi was dominant in the OHL this season, averaging over two points per game to lead the league in scoring and win the MVP award. Now, he’s poised to bring his high-offensive skill to the NHL.
Here’s everything you need to know about Austria’s next superstar:
Age: 19 (Sept. 23, 2001)
Weight: 179 pounds
Current team: Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
Austria's next big thing
It won’t take long for Rossi to become one of the most dynamic players Austria has ever produced. To date, only 13 Austrians have skated in the NHL with Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl having the most successful careers.
Due to his country’s limited competition, Rossi began playing across the border in Switzerland at age 10. Still, he calls Austria home and could represent his country at the 2021 World Juniors, which will mark the first time Austria competes in the tournament in 11 years.
“I think he can be on par or even top Vanek’s career,” Switzerland-based scout Thomas Roost told The Athletic. Vanek was drafted fifth overall in the 2003 NHL Draft and went on to score 789 points in 1,029 games.
What has been your favourite Marco Rossi highlight this season?pic.twitter.com/KKMNE5g1tp
— Ottawa 67’s (@Ottawa67sHockey) January 31, 2020
The perfect playmaker
Rossi led the OHL with 120 points this season, 81 of which were assists. He has superb vision which he uses to find teammates almost anywhere and hit them with quick, precise passes.
While Rossi got plenty of time on the league’s No. 1 power play, 80 of his points still came at five-on-five.
“Rossi’s one of those players who skates well, he’s a puck-possession type guy, he plays with his head up, he makes those around him better (and) he has excellent hand-eye coordination,” Sportsnet’s CHL insider
" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Sam Cosentino said. “When it comes to looking at players at this age, one of the things that’s often talked about is the consistency in their game. If you watch Marco Rossi play… his game is pretty much the same nightly.”
Beyond his vision, Rossi uses his quick hands to score goals in tight to the net or to set up teammates after drawing an opponent in. Rossi says he was a fan of Pavel Datsyuk growing up and that’s very apparent in the way he can make something out of nothing in tight corners or with opponents crowding his space.
"Me and a few of the guys were joking because I don’t think we’ve seen him fall once and he’s always the first guy in the corner," teammate Austen Keating told The Athletic. "I don’t know how he does it. He somehow dodges hits and reverses hits. He’s really good at coming back into the guy who’s coming to hit him and getting around guys."
Needs another gear
Rossi has the skill to put up points in the pros, but scouts believe his skating will need to improve first. Specifically, his top speed doesn’t hit the same peaks as his peers.
“(He’s) a bit undersized and lacking a fifth gear — lacking a bit of top-end speed,” Roost, the Switzerland-based scout, told The Athletic. “He’s actually a good skater in terms of mobility and quickness but as I said, the high-end top speed is lacking.”
Rossi is aware of this deficiency, though, and has done some training in Arizona with Boris Dorozhenko, who has also coached Auston Matthews, to specifically improve his speed.
Rossi is still very strong on his skates despite his slower speed and he isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice to get the puck, even though he isn't the biggest player out there.
“Just his edge work — he’s unbelievable,” his coach, Andre Tourigny, told The Athletic. “He’s in the corner and he’s under pressure and suddenly, two little tight turns and he’s by himself. You watch him and you’re like, ‘How did he do that?’ It’s unbelievable. He has fantastic edge work. He still needs to improve his top speed, but his ability to change direction, attack the space and create his own space by changing direction is fabulous.”
He’s played pro before
Before joining the 67’s two seasons ago, Rossi got a taste of pro hockey as a 16-year-old in Switzerland. In the 2017-18 season, Rossi skated in 18 games for the GC Küsnacht Lions in the Swiss League’s second division. He had four goals and seven points in those games.
His time in Switzerland taught Rossi to become a more complete player who can play in all three zones. Ryan Hayes, a former OHL player who was teammates with Rossi in Switzerland, raved about that specific part of his game in an interview with The Athletic.
“He played the right way which is hard to do -- he understood the game at such a young age,” Hayes said. “He did well because it’s a big jump (to pro). He has a gift for offensive zone play, he has a good shot. He has a very good work ethic, so I’m glad he’s doing well.”
That experience helped Rossi when he made the transition to the OHL, which has smaller rinks and players closer to his age. Rossi posted a league-leading plus-69 rating this season, was a key penalty killer and trusted protecting leads late in games.
“He cares about his play in all three zones — winning all three zones — and it’s unique for someone his age,” 67’s GM James Boyd told The Athletic. “He still manages to score or get a point or two, but he’s equally focused on shutting down the other team’s top guys at the same time."
Despite the uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic reports Rossi is focused on playing in the NHL in 2020-21 and is not planning to sign with a pro club in Europe.
.@marcorossi2383 tuned into @Sportsnet's #IceSurfing with @JeffMarek & @jasonyork33 to talk about his success this season and how much it means to him that he gets to show up to the rink everyday and play with his teammates.#NoQuit |: Sportsnet pic.twitter.com/qAJFCGoTOH
— Ottawa 67’s (@Ottawa67sHockey) February 5, 2020
Family is everything
Rossi is following in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a career in hockey. Michael Rossi played 20 years of pro hockey in Austria and is passing on everything he knows to his son.
The relationship between father and son grew exponentially once Marco began playing in Switzerland at age 10 as the two had plenty of time to bond during their long car rides to the rink.
"I went to work in the morning at six, I came home at 4:30, picked up my kid to be in Zurich at six for the start of practice and we got home at midnight," Michael told the Ottawa Sun. "It was a hard decision about what to do with a talented kid, but if he stayed in Austria, I don’t know how much he could have improved.
"I lost two jobs because of that, but it makes me happy, what I see now."
Michael visits Marco in Ottawa often and the younger Rossi is grateful for the lessons his dad has passed on.
"Since I was a little kid, he always taught me and showed me how to play, taught me about having respect and character, and how to be a pro," Marco said in an interview with CHL.ca. "He taught me a lot and without him I wouldn’t be here right now."