A centreman with the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL, Rossi just turned 19 but carries himself with the confidence of a player much older. In 2019-20, he led the entire CHL in scoring, recording 120 points in just 56 games during the COVID-shortened season.
And now, he hopes to join Thomas Vanek (5th in 2003), Michael Grabner (14th in 2006), Andre Burakovsky (23rd in 2013), and Marko Dano (27th in 2013) as an Austrian 1st-rounder. Indeed, his stock has been rising to the point that he might even go higher than Vanek, which would be an honour in itself for the teen.
“If you see Thomas Vanek or Michael Grabner playing in the NHL, it becomes the childhood dream for every kid in Austria,” Rossi explained during a zoom call last week. “It was my motivation, too. I saw them playing in the NHL, and that became my goal as well.”
Rossi grew up in Austria while his father, Michael, enjoyed a two-decade pro career, but when Marco was only ten his father decided he would be better served training at a higher level. The family moved to Switzerland, and it was there Marco became the player he is today.
“My dad has been my biggest influence since day one,” Marco enthused. “He played in Europe for 20 years, and when I was a kid we’d practice together all the time. I became a pretty good player, but we also travelled around because he wanted to show me other good players, to see what they did and how they played. I wouldn’t be here today without my family.”
The next step in Marco’s development was to move to Canada to play junior hockey. He was drafted by Ottawa in the CHL’s Import Draft and moved to Canada’s capital city in 2018. In just his second year he led the league in scoring and was named the OHL’s MVP.
And through it all, he’s had the support of Vanek. “Three years ago, before I went to Canada, he called me and just wished me luck and told me to call him whenever I wanted,” Rossi revealed. “We’ve talked through the years. He’s very nice, and it’s great that I have someone like him to talk to.”
“I think I have a complete game, a 200-foot game,” he explained. “My compete level, and my play-making, my smartness, my hockey IQ and my overall game are there. I can play both ends of the ice.”
His self-assessment can be traced back to his childhood and his father’s influence.
“When I was young, my dad told me to keep my head up, look for the play and make good passes, be a good playmaker,” Marco continued. “I would say he was different from the other parents. When you’re really young, the parents are always telling their kids to score. My dad told me to try to help my teammates, and I did, so maybe that’s why I’m successful in the offensive zone.”
During the pandemic, Rossi has not only been watching and learning from the “bubble playoffs” in Toronto and Edmonton, he’s found a new favourite player.
“My favourite player growing up was Pavel Datsyuk, but playing right now it’s Brayden Point [of Tampa Bay]. He plays so smart. He’s the same size as me, and I just love to watch him play. He’s not afraid, and he’s such a great playmaker, great shooter. He makes his team better.”
Like every other league in the world, the OHL ceased operations in mid-March as the pandemic swept the world. Rossi left Canada and returned to Austria, but he did so with clear goals in mind.
“My main goal this year was to be faster, quicker, more explosive, more speed,” he explained. “I started to work on that right away with my personal coach when I came back from Canada in mid-March. We’ve been working on those things for six or seven months now. It’s going really well, and you can see the improvements off ice, and I’ve never felt this good on the ice. My body is much different today than it was when I left Canada seven months ago. It was good before, but now it’s much better.”
Rossi will be home in Austria for the draft, and home until he knows what will happen in the hockey world next season as the world comes to grips with a second wave of COVID. But for now he’s focused on the draft, which will take place in the middle of the night for him.
“There will be a lot of adrenaline, for sure,” he admitted, excitedly. “I think the draft will be about 1am or 2am for me at home, but I’m just going to enjoy it with my family and friends and see what happens.”