No one outside an NHL organization truly knows what a team's draft boards look like, but from what we can piece together after the 2020 Draft, the Minnesota Wild's decision at Pick No. 9 may have come down to Marco Rossi versus Anton Lundell.
We know for sure that the Wild picked Rossi. Given the information that's come out since then, it seems like Lundell was also on the minds of the scouting staff. Enough to the point where they are rumored to have considered trading Matt Boldy to the Florida Panthers straight-up for the No. 12 overall pick that became Lundell.
It's hearsay now, but fans in the State of Hockey had Rossi somewhat tied to Lundell, especially over the past two years. While Rossi was toiling in the AHL, scoring 34 goals and 104 points in 114 games for the Iowa Wild, Lundell was busy racking up 30 goals and 77 points in 138 games. In the NHL. For a Panthers team that won the President's Trophy one year and went to the Stanley Cup Final the next.
Lundell was the dreaded Guy They Should Have Picked, and that sentiment got louder as Rossi's future with the organization was in doubt.
Scoring one point in his first 21 games made for a noticeable drag on his career averages. It seemed like it would be a while before he could climb up into the range of players like Lundell, Cole Perfetti (No. 10 overall in 2020), Seth Jarvis (No. 13 overall), or Dawson Mercer (No. 18 overall).
Or maybe just 29 games. Rossi's start to the season doesn't have the most jaw-dropping numbers. He entered the weekend on pace for 28 goals and 48 points, a strong, respectable season. That success is starting to cancel out his previous failures to launch and bring him to the level of the players Minnesota "should have drafted."
Most of these players have about two or three times the NHL games that Rossi has, so we'll need to count on rate stats to level the playing field. So how do Rossi's career numbers at 5-on-5 hold up against his contemporaries?
5-on-5 Points Per Hour, Career:
Cole Perfetti, WPG: 2.04
Seth Jarvis, NSH: 1.86
Dawson Mercer, NJD: 1.78
Anton Lundell, FLA: 1.67
Marco Rossi, MIN: 1.65
Sure, that's still behind these guys, but considering that he started the season with 0.29 points per hour for his career, we're talking major progress. Progress that should, theoretically, only continue to go up. John Hynes' recent line mix-up saw Kirill Kaprizov leave Rossi's wing in exchange for Marcus Johansson, a definite downgrade. Still, Rossi's still in a top-six role alongside Mats Zuccarello and is not struggling for minutes lower in the lineup.
That line is even driving play in the early stages, with a 58.4% share of the expected goals at 5-on-5. Sure, their success is driven more by defense than offense right now, but this at least should keep Rossi in that top-six role. And if a struggling Johansson can find something approaching his game from last season, even better.
Zuccarello and Johansson are both primarily playmakers, so Rossi should have ample opportunity to keep up his newfound goal-scoring ability this season. Even when imagining a successful 2023-24 season for Rossi, most believed his playmaking would be the driver of his offense. Not so much. Rossi gets to the net regularly and has a shot at 30 goals as a rookie.
In case you were wondering -- that's a big deal. How many Under-23 rookies have scored 30 goals since the 2004-05 lockout? Just nine: Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, Patrik Laine, Evgeni Malkin, Logan Couture, Kyle Connor, Bobby Ryan, and Jeff Skinner. Rossi has a chance to accomplish something quite rare.
Especially for a center. We can drop rookie eligibility from the equation and just look up every player who had a 30-goal season before turning 23. That brings the list to 54 players since 2004-05, but most are wingers. Looking at the list of centers whose careers are mostly played out, Alex Galchenyuk was the only player whose career flopped.
Aside from that, what center is the floor for Rossi, should he crack this list? Sean Monahan? Ryan Johansen? Couture? If you got any of those players with the No. 9 overall pick, you're doing cartwheels.
Speaking of goals, while Rossi is just starting to catch up to his contemporaries in points per hour at 5-on-5, he is doing quite well when it comes to goals per hour. Let's check in on where he lands among the "should have drafted" crowd:
5-on-5 goals per hour, career
You can put Rossi's goal-scoring alongside anyone else they reasonably would have drafted. Especially considering Rossi is a true center, which few in this group can claim to have developed into. Perfetti is clearly a winger. Mercer and Jarvis are getting more time in the faceoff dot than last season, but they're only taking 5-6 draws per game. Rossi's taking nine, which should continue to go up as he gains more ice time and responsibility at even strength and the power play.
Of the players competing with Rossi for "Best Player Overall In Hindsight" status at that No. 9 pick, Lundell is the only slam-dunk to be a center for his career. That matters, especially if Rossi's goal-scoring keeps up with the top names. Most in the State of Hockey seem to be pleased with Rossi, who has been a consistent bright spot for the .500-ish Wild alongside fellow rookie Brock Faber. But if there are any lingering doubts that the Wild blundered with their 2020 pick, we can put those to bed right now.
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