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Marco Rossi is Wild's nominee for Masterton Award

Marco Rossi is constantly focused on how he can improve.

He's a 20-goal scorer for the Wild, but next season he's eyeing 30 or more.

"I always say I'm maybe happy for a day," Rossi said, "and then the next day it's like, 'I want to get better.'"

But prioritizing progress doesn't mean Rossi can't appreciate what he's already accomplished.

After all, his current situation is what he hoped for before it became his reality.

"I'm always thankful for where I am right now," Rossi said, "because … two or three years ago, I was wishing for that moment."

Before he was cut twice by the Wild, including last season after he initially made the team out of training camp, Rossi had to stop playing hockey because of a potentially life-threatening heart issue.

His commitment to represent the Wild — and become one of their top goal scorers as a rookie — after getting healthy is why the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Rossi for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

"It's not like after one decision I'm going to give up on myself," Rossi said. "There's so many people who are supporting me and are having my back. There's no quit in myself."

That determination has fueled Rossi's journey to the Wild.

A first round pick drafted ninth overall by the Wild in 2020, Rossi reported to training camp in January 2021 and that's when he was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can be a complication from COVID-19, which affected Rossi the previous year.

Hockey was a no-go; one more game could have led to cardiac arrest or sudden death.

"When your doctor tells you, 'We don't know if you're going to play hockey anymore,' then of course you start to think, 'Can I really play hockey again?'" Rossi said. "On the other side, it gives you motivation, too, because you want to prove everyone wrong, and you want to make it."

Doing nothing was how Rossi could heal his heart and after five months of resting, he was allowed to resume activity and he eventually returned to the ice.

In October 2021, the Wild assigned Rossi to their minor-league team in Iowa before calling him up for a two-game stint that included his NHL debut on Jan. 6, 2022, at Boston.

Last season, Rossi stuck with the Wild and appeared in 16 games but chipped in just one assist before he was scratched from the lineup and ultimately sent back to the American Hockey League.

"That first two years was maybe a grind in the AHL," Rossi said, "but I think that makes me as a person, as a player, who I am right now."

During the offseason, Rossi stayed in Minnesota to train instead of going back to his native Austria, a choice that meant missing his sister Marielle's wedding.

As for on the ice, he saw a change: He was faster and stronger.

"I had a really good summer here, felt really good," Rossi said, "and it gave me a lot of confidence going into the season."

Case in point: Rossi's 20 goals are fourth-most on the Wild and tied for second in the NHL among rookies, trailing only the 21 from Chicago's Connor Bedard.

Rossi, 22, is just the second Wild rookie to post a 20-goal season; Kirill Kaprizov, who recorded a franchise-record 27, is the other.

Add in his 17 assists and Rossi is up to 37 points while appearing in all 75 games, his long-awaited NHL career getting off to a successful start.

"It's just the beginning," Rossi said, "because I know how good I am."