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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Marco Rossi feels ready to make the jump to the National Hockey League. 

"I have a lot of confidence and I know how good I am," the Ottawa 67’s centre said. "So, I can play on the next stage and that's the NHL for me. Like I said, I'm confident."​

He should be. Rossi absolutely shredded the Ontario Hockey League this season, posting 120 points in just 56 games and taking home the Red Tilson Trophy as most outstanding player. He was only held off the score sheet in four games. 

"His season was nothing short of amazing," said 67’s defenceman Noel Hoefenmayer, who just signed a contract with the Toronto Marlies. "He's a great player and a special person too. I'm not surprised at all with what he did. I saw it coming with how hard he works and how determined he is to make it to the next level. Marco is a pretty competitive guy and we'd always have competitions before and after practice, just pushing each other to work on little skills to get better."

While the first phase of the NHL draft lottery will be held on June 26, it remains unclear exactly when the teams will actually make their selections.

"Of course, it's going to be tough and annoying to wait, but for all prospects it's the same situation right now," Rossi said. "We have to wait and respect the situation."

Whenever the draft happens, Rossi is expected to be among the first names called. He finished No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, while TSN director of scouting Craig Button slotted him No. 8 overall in his latest prospects list.

"Rossi is an excellent playmaker with the vision and creativity to make something out of nothing," Button said. "He has a style of play similar to Nicklas Backstrom."

Rossi spoke with TSN this week from his family home in Austria where he's been working out daily, including walking on a tightrope. The 18-year-old reflected on his dominant season and opened up about his admiration for former Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk and tennis star Dominic Thiem. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation. ​

Will you consider playing games in Europe this fall if the start of the NHL season is pushed back a lot? 

"No. If I have a chance to play in the NHL, then I want to play in the NHL. We just have to wait right now."

The Senators are guaranteed two picks in the top six. You just spent two seasons in Ottawa, what did you like about playing in Canada's capital?  

"First of all, they have such great fans and the people were so friendly there and so nice to me. Everything was just perfect. It was the perfect city and the hockey rink was really nice." 

What do you think it would be like to play in the NHL in a Canadian market? 

"I just want to play in the NHL, and it doesn't matter where. But if it's going to be a Canadian team then, of course, it's going to be different. The transition to come from Europe to Canada was big, because hockey [here] is not that big, not like Canada, so that transition was huge for me. Everyone is hockey crazy." 

Where does hockey rank on the list of popular sports in Austria?

"I don't know, like, maybe 10th, 15th, 20th? It's not very popular." 

Thomas Vanek was picked No. 5 in the 2003 draft, the highest selection for an Austrian, would it be meaningful to match that or even beat it? 

"Not really. I just want to get drafted by a team that wants me and that's where I’ll be the most happy. If I get drafted No. 4 then, okay, I'm a higher pick than Vanek, but nothing changes for me, because I still have to work hard to make the NHL." 

Have you ever spoken with Vanek? 

"Yes, over the phone. It was two years ago ... he heard I came to Canada and asked my personal coach to have my number and then he called me, and we talked a bit. He gave me advice about playing on North American ice, how it's different than Europe." 

Where did your game improve the most this season? Where did you take the biggest step?

"I would say everything. My body got much better from my first season to the second. My shot got better. My skill set got better. I got faster, bigger, stronger, so I improved everything. It's hard to say one thing. I just got, overall, much better."  

Ottawa 67s coach Andre Tourigny praises your competitive fire. Where does that come from?

"Definitely from my dad, because I when I saw him playing in the Austrian League, I could see his fire and passion for the sport, his competitiveness, and since then I had the same mindset as him."

I understand that competitive fire carries over into practice. What do your teammates think? 

"It doesn't matter if it’s a two-on-one [drill] or whatever, if I don't score or if it's a bad pass, I get frustrated. They always say, 'Oh my God!' But, it’s funny."

The 67s were the top team in the OHL, what was your favourite moment of the season? 

"Winning every game, that's the most fun part. When the season got cancelled, I was so frustrated. In my first season, we were in the [OHL] final and had a winning streak of 14 games and then you lose four games in a row, it was very tough to swallow. Then coming into this season our big goal was to win and I think we were in a really good [position] and it's very disappointing." 

How long did it take to get over the loss to Guelph in the OHL Championship series last year? 

"Long ... the first few days you're just speechless and then you realize what happened and you're just frustrated."

How did you get over it? Did you work even harder? 

"I just worked the same, because if you work harder then maybe it's bad for your body if you do too much. But I was pissed, and it was good, because coming into the new season you just play with more passion."

   

Our director of scouting, Craig Button, compares your skill set to that of Nicklas Backstrom. Which current or past NHL players do you use as a role model? 

"Pavel Datsyuk. I always watched Datsyuk’s highlights since I was a small kid."

Do you have a favourite Datsyuk moment or game? 

"I remember when he was playing against Nashville and he was unreal. There were so many highlights in just one game. It's unbelievable." 

Do you watch a lot of hockey? Are you on YouTube scouting plays all the time? 

"Yes, but just Pavel Datsyuk's highlights."

You have posted some videos on Twitter of you working on a tightrope, how does that help? 

"It's one drill where we work on balance and the core."

Is it tough? 

"It's tough, yeah."

What are you focused on improving this summer? 

"My speed, that's the main point right now. We've already trained seven weeks since I've been back home in Austria. From the first day [I returned] we've trained. We train twice a day. The focus is to get faster, more speed."

What is the best part of life in Austria? 

"Living at the Alps and eating good food and eating schnitzel." 

What's your favourite type of schnitzel? 

"Chicken. There are good places, but for me it's my mom or my grandmother, they do it best." 

Did you find a schnitzel place in Ottawa? 

"I found one, but it's hard. It’s not the same."

Dominic Thiem, No. 3 in the ATP rankings, is one of the biggest sports stars from Austria right now. What impact has he made? 

"Oh my God, like, If you see him it’s just incredible. Over the last few years he's made so many big steps forwards and it's a big motivation for every [athlete], it doesn't matter if you're in hockey, tennis, soccer. It doesn't matter where you're from, you can make it. It's just incredible." 

Are you a big tennis fan? 

"I'm a huge tennis fan, so I always try to watch every game I can of Dominic Thiem. It's one of my favourite sports besides hockey and soccer."

Did you play? 

"I used to play tennis until I was 14, along with soccer and hockey, so I had to decide on one of those sports and I decided for hockey." 

Was it an easy choice? 

"Not really, because I loved to do everything, but at the end of the day the most passion I had was for hockey, so that’s why I chose that. But I still play soccer and tennis in the summer."