Marco Rossi’s slow start means absolutely nothing

Marco Rossi’s slow start means absolutely nothing

Ten days ago, the Marco Rossi Saga had come to the point it was obvious that given his low opportunities in the NHL, going to the AHL would be preferable. Yet things have somehow become more unsustainable since then.

Rossi played just 8:51 – 10 shifts – in a 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 17. He hasn’t played hockey since then. At all. Not in the NHL, where a healthy Wild scratched him for four straight games. Certainly not in the AHL, where the Iowa Wild could have used him.

A quick decision to get him to Milwaukee by Saturday, Nov. 19 would give Rossi four AHL contests now. There had been four games of power play minutes, puck touches and confidence-building opportunities. Instead, there have been four games with bag skates and watch the game next to the James Sheppard Memorial Popcorn Machine* in the press box.

Ten days later, the Wild mercifully stopped waffling on whether to do the sensible thing and sent him down to the AHL. At least he will get a chance to play his first game in 12 days and build his confidence in a big role.

Still, these first 16 games will be big red flags for some in the State of Hockey. One point in 16 games, after such high hopes and expectations, are deflated. It’s also worrying that Dean Evason is relying on journeymen like Sam Steel in a top-line role above him. But do the last six weeks mean we should reconsider Rossi’s career prospects?

No. Rossi’s struggles don’t mean he won’t become an NHL player. They don’t mean he won’t turn into the point-producing, two-way center Minnesota hoped for when they drafted him ninth overall in 2020. Going to the minors doesn’t mean the 21-year-old will be a bust.

If it matters, it’s probably just that the past two seasons have spoiled Wild fans with great rookies who delivered upon arrival. That’s not a bad thing – it was time for the Hockey Gods to give them a Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy as a treat. Take care of it. Just don’t let that make you forget: It’s not always that easy and seamless.

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The most obvious parallel to this is Mikael Granlund in 2013. Like Rossi, the Wild rolled out Granlund in a year with high expectations—they had just made the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter—and he didn’t find his footing right away. He had one goal and six points in his first 19 games before moving to the AHL. His return wasn’t much better either. He finished the year with two goals and eight points in 27 games.

Wild fans might want to hold their nose a little at Granlund comparisons. The 9th general election in 2010 never quite lived up to expectations. But whatever you may say about Granlund, he peaked with 69- and 67-point seasons for Minnesota. If Rossi becomes that caliber of offensive player while providing strong defense in the middle, it’s a huge win for the Wild.

But if you want an example of a true star player who had a rough start to his career, let’s look at Kevin Fiala. With similar inconsistent ice time to Rossi in 2016-17, Fiala started his first full-ish (55 games) season with two goals in 11 games. Not long after, he added just one assist in 11 games. A two-game hitting streak later, and he had a goal in 12 games. Downfalls happen!

Coming off an 11-goal, 16-point season, Nashville Predators fans were likely concerned about whether or not their talented offensive force would ever translate to the NHL. A year later, Fiala posted 23 goals and 48 points in a full season. Two years after that, he had his coming-out party as a game-breaker.

Even the prospects who arrive in the NHL and take off immediately aren’t immune to a significant roadblock at some point. Fans just don’t hear much about them, since they happen outside of the NHL’s scrutiny. The only time a non-NHL slump enters the wider consciousness of a fan base is if it’s invincibly awful.

You know, kind of like the one Boldy had in 2019. When Boldy went from the US National Program to Boston College, Boldy couldn’t find the score sheet at all. Entering the holiday break, he mustered just one goal and three points in 15 games. Many were ready to write him off as a bust when he floundered in college. But after the break, he scored eight goals and 23 points in 19 games, and the rest was history.

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Rossi’s start doesn’t even mean you can write him off as productive this year. Maybe there are growing pains that will require an entire season to make adjustments. Or maybe falls just occur. When things start breaking Rossi’s way again, his confidence will return and his skills will do the rest.

It’s not even as if star players like Boldy are immune to the slumps Rossi is going through now. Boldy recently had a stretch of eight games where he also mustered just one point. Now, you might point out that an eight game slump is only half as long as a 16 game one. But is it really in this case?

Rossi averages 12:26 of ice time per night, so in 16 games he has just 199 minutes in all situations. Boldy averages over 19 per competition. His eight game slump saw him log 153 minutes or around 77% of Rossi’s minutes for the entire season. And what’s more – Boldy got the benefit of 26 power play minutes during that stretch. How many power play minutes does Rossi have in total? 19.

So, yes, those declines were of the same order of magnitude. And did Boldy’s downfall matter? Did it affect anyone’s perception of who he was? No, and it shouldn’t. Things fell apart, and he’s back at it with a three-game hitting streak, with two assists in it for good measure.

Now we have proof of concept with Boldy as an impact NHLer, something we don’t have for Rossi. But Boldy’s bump on the road should put into perspective how small Rossi’s struggles should be in the overall picture.

The biggest difference between Boldy’s decline and Rossi’s is that Boldy was able to play through his games. The least amount of ice time for him in that slump was 16:29, a number Rossi has managed to surpass only once this entire season, and by only 10 seconds. Boldy also got the benefit of regular, steady power play time, while Rossi hasn’t had anything close to that all year. At no point did Evason relegate Boldy from the top 6. He just let him play, let him touch the puck, and was patient through the slump because he knew Boldy’s talent would eventually work itself out.

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That’s why it’s frustrating to see Evason take the exact opposite approach with Rossi. Like Boldy, Rossi thrives in a Top-6 role where he has the power to touch the puck and has the bond to make plays happen. But Rossi doesn’t get power play time, puck touches, minutes, time spent with Kaprizov, or any asset to help him work through the slump. Instead, he’s being benched for not hacking it in a role that doesn’t suit him and that the organization isn’t even grooming him to take over. Meanwhile, forwards like Steel and Frederick Gaudreau are equally miscast in a role that suits Rossi’s strengths and style.

Fortunately, Rossi gets a reset in Iowa that lifts him out of the backwards, ill-conceived ordeal that has been his use for the past six weeks. There are probably lessons Rossi can take from his time in the NHL. But what should you, the fans, take away from his stint? Nothing. We learned nothing of value from this, and we won’t until Rossi returns to the NHL, as long as Evason can find the guts to treat him like he does every other star rookie who has come through during his tenure.

* The James Sheppard Memorial Popcorn Machine, as named by’s Nate Wells

All statistics via Hockey Reference unless otherwise stated.

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