Marco Rossi last appeared in a Minnesota Wild sweater on November 17 before skating nearly 13 minutes against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night. He broke camp with the Wild and had one point in 16 games before they demoted him. Rossi has spent the rest of the season as a point-per-player with the Iowa Wild, biding his time until he got another shot at the NHL. It’s a surprising development for a player who was borderline NHL-ready on draft day and had built chemistry with Matt Boldy in the minors.
“Playing with Bolds in Iowa was the best thing for me because he’s so smart,” Rossi told The Athletic in August. Boldy played ten games in Iowa with Rossi last year. “We’re both really smart, so when I had the puck, I was looking for him and tried to have him in open space. And same thing, when he had the puck, I tried to get into open space for him. We both played the half wall on the power play, and we always tried to make that seam pass to each other.”
One way the cap-strapped Wild could compete while the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts expired would be to lean into a young, hungry team that built chemistry together in Iowa. Boldy is a special player, a 30-goal scorer in his second season. But Minnesota traded his dynamic linemate, Kevin Fiala, because of cap pressure, and Boldy’s production dipped early in the season. A large part of that? Boldy needed more skilled linemates.
Boldy didn’t score a goal in February. But the Wild traded for Marcus Johansson and moved Joel Eriksson Ek, their only bona fide Top-6 center, onto Boldy’s line. Even with more pressure on him following Kirill Kaprizov’s March 8 injury, Boldy scored 12 goals in March – more than he had in November, December, January, and February combined. However, Evgeni Malkin’s slapshot injured Eriksson Ek in Minnesota’s April 6 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kaprizov returned on April 8 vs. the St. Louis Blues. It’s tough luck for a team that needs to be fully healthy before the playoffs. But it’s even more so for Boldy, who finally had two complementary teammates.
The Wild may have hesitated to bring Rossi up sooner because they didn’t want fans to see him as a savior for a team that spent most of the year on the playoff bubble. However, Minnesota is in a different position now because of the moves they made at the deadline. Johansson filled out Boldy’s line, and John Klingberg rounded out the Top-4 defensive pairings. Oskar Sundqvist has provided forward depth, while Gustav Nyquist scored in his second game back. As a result, the Wild have ascended to the top of the Central Division. They probably won’t win the Central, but they are firmly in the playoff picture.
However, Bill Guerin and Co. couldn’t address center depth at the deadline. It’s a tough position to trade for, given the value centers provide to their team. And it’s even more so for a cap-strapped team like the Wild. They’ve spent most of the year relying on Ryan Hartman, Freddy Gaudreau, and Sam Steel to hold down the top two center spots. Eriksson Ek spent most of the season on the third line with Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway. Hartman is a glue guy who provides value to any team, but he’s a right wing. Gaudreau and Steel are solid NHL players, but neither is a true Top-6 center. Still, it appears that the Wild will roll into the playoffs with two of those three players on the top two lines.
The Wild put Eriksson Ek on the second line after they traded Greenway to the Buffalo Sabres at the deadline. It broke up a safety blanket line for Evason, who trusted its defense in crucial situations. Had Eriksson Ek not gotten injured against Pittsburgh, Minnesota would have at least had one bona fide Top-6 center on its top two lines. To have two, they would have had to bring Rossi along sooner. The Wild didn’t have to call him up to be a savior – that’s an unfair expectation for a 21-year-old. Instead, they could have worked him into the lineup to get him to adjust to the NHL game.
Now, Rossi joins the team at the end of the season with the playoffs looming. Even with Eriksson Ek out, Rossi is unlikely to play in the playoffs. He looked like a player adjusting to the NHL game in Chicago and against the Winnipeg Jets, and the Wild only have one game left against the Nashville Predators on Thursday. That’s not enough time for Rossi to adapt before playoff hockey. Maybe he would never have been ready this year, but he doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors. At some point, he will have to learn at the highest level.
Rossi’s presence on the roster, or lack thereof, would be less important if Minnesota had two bona fide NHL centers. But it feels like the team is heading into the playoffs without the skill they need up the middle to go on a run. Perhaps Filip Gustavsson stands on his head. Maybe Kaprizov and Boldy will be fine regardless of who centers their lines. Crazy things happen in the postseason. It’s why we watch. But if the Wild are going to miss Eriksson Ek in the postseason, and Rossi may have been able to give them a boost if he was ready.
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