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  • Marco Rossi Will Start the Year On the 4th Line - And That's Okay

    Justin Wiggins

    Nothing gets fans brewing quite like a training camp battle. And for a second straight year, Marco Rossi finds his name right in the thick of it. Unlike last year, though, Rossi isn't trying to make the team as training camp winds down. It seems that he has solidified his spot on the roster. This time around, much of the chatter has been focused on the projected lines head coach Dean Evason has leaked a few times.


    Barring injury to a forward in the next week, Evason plans to roll these lines out as his forward group on opening night:

    Kaprizov – Hartman – Zuccarello

    Jost – Eriksson Ek – Foligno

    Gaudreau – Steel – Boldy

    Duhaime – Rossi – Dewar

    Obviously, Rossi is the first name that stands out, centering the fourth line with Brandon Duhaime and Connor Dewar. Much has been said about Rossi needing to play with his former AHL linemate Matt Boldy or perhaps even centering the dynamic dup of Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. Rossi is probably the most talented center on the roster, and therefore he should play on the most dynamic line possible, right?


    I agree that Rossi is more talented than both Hartman and Steel. However, I also think it's okay to pump the breaks and think of Rossi's place on the depth chart from a developmental standpoint. He is still just a 21-year-old prospect, and playing the center position in the NHL is the most difficult position on the ice to master.


    Placing Rossi between Kaprizov and Zuccarello would surely lead to some great offensive highlights, but that's a tall task for Rossi to manage in his first month as an NHL player. It's one thing to play a game with those two in the preseason when it doesn't matter. It's an entirely different beast once the lights are fully on and the games count.


    Rossi would draw the opponent's top defensive centerman every night in that position because opposing coaches are naturally deploying their top shutdown lines whenever Kaprizov hops over the benches. The Wild face the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, and Boston Bruins in four of their first five games to begin the season. If Rossi were the first-line center, he would immediately be drawing some incredibly difficult matchups.


    That's not to say he couldn't handle it or even thrive. However, history suggests players can struggle more in this role than excel. Think of Evason's potential line of thinking here. Your job as the head coach is to place your players in the best position possible. Giving a 21-year-old playing the most difficult position on the ice those matchups in the first days of his NHL career may not be the right step in his development at this time. Perhaps it is best to let him get comfortable playing at the NHL level with some easier matchups.


    One final note on playing with Kaprizov and Zuccarello: Rookies tend to defer to their more veteran linemates when they're on the ice together. It's a simple truth. Until a young player gains the self-confidence they belong in the NHL, they tend to offload the puck from their stick to a more established player. Perhaps Rossi would fall into this same trap? Instead of developing his game as a complete, two-way player, Rossi would be limiting his role on the ice.


    That likely wouldn't be the case on the fourth line, though. Centering Duhaime and Dewar might give Rossi more confidence in driving play by himself, as neither Duhaime nor Dewar has dressed in more than 80 games in the NHL. And it's not as though Rossi wouldn't receive the ice time necessary for his development. Adding up his special teams minutes with his fourth-line duties, and the former 9th-overall pick should still be logging nearly 15 minutes per game.


    Should we expect Rossi to play well enough to elevate himself in the lineup, and hopefully sooner rather than later? Of course, and I fully expect it to happen within the first month, whether as the No. 1 center or next to his pal Boldy. However, I think it's fair to give Evason and his coaching staff some slack here.


    Rossi's career is just getting started. It's important to ease him in rather than immediately shouldering him with all the responsibilities that come with being a top-6 center.

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