The list isn't long, but it's fair to say Marco Rossi is the best Austrian ever to play in the CHL. Sure, you could counter with Michael Grabner (WHL Spokane) - but he never did what Rossi just accomplished: the 2020 draft prospect cemented his legacy today by earning the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL's most outstanding player.
Rossi, the Ottawa 67's center, led the league in scoring with 120 points in 56 games while winning 58.5 percent of his draws. The award is voted on by the media and Rossi earned 62 percent of the vote, followed by fellow 2020 prospect Cole Perfetti of Saginaw (13 percent) and Toronto Maple Leafs pick Nick Robertson (12 percent) of Peterborough. For the record, I voted for Rossi.
Listed at 5-foot-9, 187 pounds, Rossi has a lot of fans amongst NHL talent hawks.
“He’s got a ton of skill, has the ability to play the game with pace and to play fast and execute and make decisions," said one NHL team scout. "Physically, he might be the guy closest in the OHL to being NHL-ready. He’s a physical specimen, he’s a workhorse and he can think the game at that speed.”
Playing on a loaded 67's team that had designs on an OHL championship, Rossi was well-known as a beast in practice.
"I just hate to lose," he said. "I want to win in every situation I can."
His late September birthday meant that Rossi missed the 2019 draft by about a week, which guaranteed a second season with Ottawa. Now, Rossi is focused on playing in the pros for 2020-21, whether it's in the NHL or elsewhere. But what about a return to Ottawa in a Senators jersey?
"It's tough to say because I can't control that," Rossi said. "On the draft, who knows? I can only control how I train and how I get better every day."
While Austria won promotion to the 2021 world juniors this season (without Rossi, incredibly - he stayed back with the 67's), the nation isn't necessarily known for producing a lot of high-end players. But Rossi's father played pro in his home nation and that had a big impact on the kid.
"I was lucky, my father played for 20 years," Rossi said. "I remember back when I was three years old, I saw my dad on the ice and from then, I never wanted to leave the rink when he practised."
Rossi ended up playing most of his developmental years in Switzerland (at one point playing on the same squad as Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Tim Berni) before decamping for Ottawa, where the 67's were assembling a juggernaut. Though the import needed a half-dozen games or so to adjust to the smaller ice and faster North American game, Rossi flourished, while getting help from San Jose Sharks pick Sasha Chmelevski.
"He was so professional," Rossi said. "He was such a great leader and I asked him for advice all the time."
That 67's team went to the 2019 OHL final before losing to Nick Suzuki's Guelph Storm, but Ottawa came back just as strong this year. Rossi led the charge, but unfortunately the season ended up getting cancelled before the 67's could get playoff retribution.
Now there's only one question remaining: how high will Rossi go in the 2020 draft? The top-10 is stacked with great candidates and he is part of that number. Some NHL teams wonder if he's big enough to be a center at the NHL level, but he's not small - just shorter than the typical pivot. Given how hard he plays, Rossi isn't the sort of player you want to bet against. Just ask his OHL opponents.