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Rossi has a big fan already in Vanek

Wild's first-round pick joined one-time Wild forward as only Austrians selected among NHL's top-10

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

Perhaps the only person more excited with the Wild's selection of Marco Rossi than Rossi himself, was former Wild forward and fellow Austrian Thomas Vanek.

Rossi, selected by Minnesota with the ninth overall selection, became the highest drafted native of Austria since Vanek was picked fifth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2003 NHL Draft.

Vanek, watching from his home in Lake Elmo, said he couldn't have been more thrilled for Rossi, whom he said he expected to be selected long before the Wild would have a chance to snatch him up.

But as the names started coming off the board and Rossi's was still there, Vanek said he started to wonder if his former club might have a shot at taking him.

"I was watching the draft and he kept going lower and lower, and finally I'm like, 'Geez, hopefully the Wild can get him, that would be awesome,'" Vanek said. "And he's here. I think it's a great pick. He's a phenomenal player."

Vanek has been getting scouting reports of Rossi for a while from a buddy of his back home who has trained him.

"He loves him," Vanek said.

Growing up, Rossi admitted he adored the one-time University of Minnesota star, who did not play in the NHL last season, but refuses to completely close the door on a potential return. 

Vanek scored 373 goals and 789 points in 1,029 NHL games with eight different clubs. He tallied 39 goals in two seasons with Minnesota from 2014-16, but was one of the League's most dangerous snipers early in his career in Buffalo.

He knows a thing or two about playmakers.

"His vision, it's unbelievable," Vanek said. "I've only watched him play on TV and on the computer, but the first thing I noticed was that he makes other players around him better and that to me is a sign of a great player."

Still just 36 years old, Vanek's most impactful years in the NHL coincided with Rossi's youth back home in Austria.

"He's the best Austrian player to ever play hockey," Rossi said. "It was really a big motivator for me when I was a really young kid because I could see him as an Austrian player playing in the NHL in the best league in the world. It was another motivation to see, 'OK. I want to be a hockey player and I want to play in the NHL. It doesn't matter where you're from. You can make it.' 

"He was really a big inspiration for that. And getting drafted by Minnesota and he's living in Minnesota, it couldn't be better."

Rossi and Vanek haven't spent any time together, but they have been in touch, with Vanek texting Rossi on Tuesday morning with some words of encouragement and advice, one Austrian-born top-10 pick to another.

"I texted him to wish him well and tell him to enjoy the day," Vanek said. "Obviously it's not what he envisioned, being in the building in Montreal, but still enjoy it with your family and friends and it'll still be a fun night."

With the draft taking place virtually, the big day ended up being a fun morning for Rossi, who watched the draft with family and friends back home. When the Wild selected Rossi, it was around 2 a.m. where he and his family were.

As the ninth pick drew closer and with his name still on the board, Rossi said he had a feeling Minnesota would be the team to take him. After three or four pre-draft interviews with Wild brass, he knew Minnesota was certainly interested. 

With the Wild desperately in need of high-end talent down the middle of its lineup, the availability of Rossi was a perfect storm.

"It was a perfect fit," Rossi said. 

Rossi, who turned 19 years old two weeks ago, said he believes he's ready to make an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. Perhaps as soon as next season.

"I'm ready, 100 percent," Rossi said confidently.

He has a believer in Vanek, who said he's eager to show him around the city and help his countryman adjust if either Rossi or the Wild asks him to.

"Right after he got drafted here, I texted him and said, 'Congrats, you're gonna love it here, it's a great spot, we'll talk soon and I'll probably see you soon because I'm here,'" Vanek said. "I'm sure we'll catch up here the next day or two and we'll go from there, see when he comes to town. 

"But I can't wait to meet him in person for the first time. I think he's gonna be a tremendous player and he's gonna help the Wild a lot."


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