Sixteen games into the Minnesota Wild’s season and we may need to do a mea culpa on how excited we were for this team to promote Marco Rossi to a full-time role and how sure we were that he could fill in the void that the departing skilled players left when they moved on last summer.
It is not to say that we were entirely wrong for being enthralled that the 2022 ninth-overall pick was getting his shot to make a mark after doing so damn well in his AHL rookie campaign, but we may need to take a step back and reflect that our expectations might have been too high for the young center. But we are not saying that he is the b-word or anything like that, but just readjusting what our thoughts about him.
Right now, we want to stay positive — because it is just 16 games into the season — and there are plenty of reasons why Marco Rossi can still be a hell of a good player, looking at what he has shown us so far.
He is no liability
Unlike other not-so-good young players when they make the jump into the NHL, Rossi is fine defensively. Most of the reasons why some rookies get crapped on by their coach and fans, is just never being aware of the defensive side of the puck, because they didn’t need to really learn that stuff all through their junior career.
Rossi takes pride in his two-way play and while it might not be perfect — he is sub-50 percent when it comes to on-ice shot attempts and expected goals at 5-on-5 — there are key numbers that we can look at and calm ourselves.
What statistic do most people look at almost immediately to rag on a player that isn’t doing so well? Giveaways. It is both visual and on paper, and while it might not be perfectly recorded by the league, it is still a metric that people use to bolster their opinion. Marco Rossi has one single giveaway in the 15 games he’s played. One! And add in the other side of the other side of the possession-change stat, Rossi has four registered takeaways. The dude loves to keep possession and can swipe a puck away from most players.
rossi picks dach’s pocket and deserved a goal pic.twitter.com/93w0jJ8Y9m— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 8, 2021
And while Rossi’s on-ice defensive numbers aren’t great, and frankly kind of crap, there are usually four other skaters on the ice with him and it’s not all up to the one guy. He could certainly get more help than he has so far, and that’s why...
Rossi has barely played with any top-end skill
Marco Rossi has played approximately 167 minutes at 5-on-5 this season. For 64 of those minutes, he’s been able to play with other young phenom Matt Boldy, but outside of that, it’s been bottom-six forwards for him. Forty-five minutes with Connor Dewar, 40 minutes with Mason Shaw, 31 minutes with Tyson Jost — it all adds up to him just not getting the pure opportunity to be that offensive center that he can be.
Don’t get me wrong, I think those other players are decent-to-good, but there’s a difference between a goal happening as a treat — a surprise, a fluke — while that line is on the ice and being with players that will lead the team in scoring for most of the season. At this point and what we have seen so far, Rossi alone cannot drive a line by himself, but he has all the attributes of a top-six center that compliments skilled wingers so damn well and lets them flourish. A young David Krecji, if you will.
We’re not calling for a lineup change (maybe we are) but just for some decisions to have more sincere meaning to let Rossi get out of this slump. He mentioned before, after he got his first NHL point, that he was thinking of the drought of production so much and all he’s trying to do is be more confident. Maybe all he needs to get going is a few games being the top guy down the middle to figure it out and take that experience back down the lineup if it doesn’t work out perfectly.
All options have not been explored, yet.
The shots are coming from the right area, when they happen
Playing with better players could lead to more scoring chances, which could lead to more goals scored. But what Rossi is doing right now is still working through the process of shooting the puck and getting those chances.
He hasn’t scored a goal yet, but man, he’s at least getting to the right area of the ice to get his shots off when they happen.
At 5-on-5 play, there are no regular Wild skaters that have less shot attempts than Rossi right now. Marcus Foligno and Jon Merrill do have less, but they have missed a significant amount of time due to injuries and are still close behind Rossi with 18 shot attempts, compared to the center’s 20.
There is basically no volume here, but at least when he does shoot, it’s not from abnormal areas. Maybe he’s just choosy with his shot attempts, for now. The first goal will come eventually.
There is still plenty of time
The all-encompassing reason why we don’t want to be too concerned with how Rossi is playing is that he is still just 21 years old and just last season played his first full season since recovering from myocarditis. He is healthy now, but the development might have taken a slight step back compared to the peers in his age group.
While it isn’t the same at all, considering where they were drafted and the system they developed in, it is nice to calm yourself down by thinking about how at Rossi’s current age, Kirill Kaprizov just moved to CSKA Moskow after captaining Russia’s World Junior team and the expectations were just slightly higher. It’s still a long way from being a center in the National Hockey League. Hell, even most players that went through the CHL system are just playing professional hockey for the first time when they’re 21 years old.
Rossi is already ahead of schedule comparatively, but also, given the high draft pedigree and performance we have seen already, maybe it is going a bit easy on the player, comparing him to lesser prospects and when they eventually made it.
Either way, there is still a boatload of time before we have to really get concerned about Rossi’s play. If this continues through the full season and he finishes with under 10 total points, then we can freak out (and we will). For now, there are at least signs of life that Rossi can be a key contributor.