How Pittsburgh Penguins John Marino Went From Sixth Round to Second Pairing in 50 Games

John Marino
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 08: Pittsburgh Penguins Defenseman John Marino (6) shoots the puck during the third period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes on March 8, 2020, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This past summer The Edmonton Oilers did some asset management by moving out John Marino. It was becoming clear that Marino was not likely to sign in Edmonton so Ken Holland sent him to Pittsburgh. In return Edmonton received a conditional sixth-round pick in 2021.  Since that trade, he hasn’t looked back.

John Marino Went From Sixth Round Pick to Dominant in 50 Games

John Marino has quickly become the type of player that all late rounders can look up to. Drafted 154th overall in the 2015 draft Marino was viewed as an all-around defenceman project with limited offensive upside. This belief was reinforced over three years at Harvard University where his offensive numbers stayed static year over year.  As late as March of 2019 it was still believed Marino would be a project for a few years in the AHL.

The Draft

John Marino was eligible for the 2015 NHL entry draft. He was projected to go in the third round with his final NHL Central Scouting ranking of 63rd overall. When he fell to the 6th round Edmonton snapped him up with their pick at 154. The Scouting report on Marino was that he was an “all-around defenseman with some upside.”

All mid to late-round picks are at a huge disadvantage as the chances of reaching the NHL.  Roughly only one in five players drafted after the third-round will make it to the show. And many of these will be low-level players. As the 51st defenseman taken that year it is fair to say that no one had any expectation beyond a depth or third pairing d-man.

The Trade

After three years of hockey playing for Harvard University, it was becoming clear that Marino would not be signing with Edmonton. Citing a lack of opportunity with the Oilers depth on defense, Marino stated he would be going back to Harvard for his fourth year.  This would have left him as a UFA the following year. Ken Holland pulled the trigger on a deal sending him to the Penguins in an asset management move. Two weeks later Marino signed an entry-level deal with the Pens.

In training camp, it became clear very quickly that Marino was no project. This was a player who impressed the coaches and showed he was ready for a shot at the opening night roster.  GM Jim Rutherford was quoted as saying “He had an extremely good camp. We’re going to want him to start the year here. We may have to do a little maneuvering cap-wise here in the next few days, but my expectation is he’ll start the season in Pittsburgh.”

Rookie Season

The regular season saw Marino play 10:30 in his opening game. By game two his minutes leapt to 16:06 as coach Mike Sullivan saw that he could be trusted with more time. While some rookie mistakes were evident, Marino seemed to learn and adjust at an incredible pace for a rookie defenceman. By early November, Marino was logging over 20 minutes a game on average.

As the season progressed he quickly earned more and more responsibilities. The eyes of the hockey community were opened by both his maturity and his offensive flair. It had been well documented that he had a good all around game, his offensive instincts and ability shocked many. He impressed Sullivan so much that he even worked his way onto the second unit power play

The Injury

Things could not have been going better for Marino until February 6th. On that night the Pens faced off against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Marino was struck in the face with a Steve Stamkos slap shot. Before his facial injury on February 6th, he was averaging 2:02 minutes on the penalty kill. This allowed the Pens to trade Erik Gudbranson and free up his $4M cap hit. It also makes it easier for the Pens to move on from Justin Schultz after this year.

Since returning from the injury on March 3rd, Marino picked up right where he left off. He has locked up his spot on the second pairing alongside Marcus Petterssen and was back on the second unit powerplay with Kris Letang. The expected departure of Justin Schultz this offseason will also open up the 1st unit in the future. There is no reason to believe that it will not be his for the taking.

The Future

All evidence points to this year being the first of many. Marino has been a stabilizing factor on the Penguins blueline as he has played an unsheltered role for much of the year. This is a rarity for any first year d-men in the NHL. His offense is likely to improve with a more beneficial deployment in the future. This year Schultz was spoon-fed offensive zone starts (62.5 percent) and his departure opens up these opportunities for Marino. Expect the duo of Marino and Petterssen to anchor the Pens blue line for many years to come.

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