Newly minted Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman John Marino doesn’t have a wishlist for the big paychecks he will begin receiving next fall, but he does want to change a few things on the ice. His on-ice desires are less of a wishlist and things the young defenseman plans to add to his game.
And if Marino is successful, his six-year, $24.4 million Penguins contract will look like a bargain.
On Sunday morning, the Penguins announced the new deal for the second-year defenseman who has played only 56 NHL games. In fairness, those first 56 games were borderline spectacular. Marino earned top-four minutes and spent nary a moment out of place. And he had bigger plans for Year 2.
“Maybe just being a little more confident with the puck in the O-zone,” Marino began when PHN asked if he could improve one thing. “When you first come in as a rookie, your first instinct is you don’t want to mess up. You want to play it safe, make the right play.
(What I’d like to improve) is maybe be a little more aggressive on the rush. Little things like that.”
Not only did Marino score 26 points (6g, 20a) in his rookie season, he finished eighth in Calder Trophy voting. He became one of the trusted defenders on the Penguins blue line, which included seven Stanley Cup rings. Marino’s ascension coincided with former Penguins d-man Justin Schultz’s injury issues.
By mid-season, Marino was a top-four fixture. That’s a long way for a defenseman who finished the previous season with Harvard University and signed with the Penguins because he and his family had a long-standing relationship with former Penguins All-Star and current scout Kevin Stevens.
But he demurred with a chuckle when PHN asked if he had a wishlist of things to buy when his new contract kicks in for the 2021-21 NHL season.
Though a $24.4 million deal means John Marino can probably afford to finish his Harvard degree without a scholarship (though a little birdie told us he finished his degree in December).
“The pace and depth are a lot deeper (in the NHL) than at the college level. A lot more guys can make plays,” Marino said in comparison. “(Opponents) keep you guessing. This year, (I’d like) to be more consistent.”
Marino and the Pittsburgh Penguins opened camp on Sunday. Monday is the first-day media will be allowed into the arena for practice. Tuesday is the first scrimmage, and Sunday night is the only game simulation of the nine-day prelude to the 56-game 2021 NHL season.
Marino is almost assuredly the Penguins’ second-pairing RHD, with Marcus Pettersson on the left. Now, including Pettersson and Marino, five of the six Penguins defensemen are on long-term contracts above $4 million AAV.
As the Penguins look to the future, they’re obviously planning on a mobile defense and goaltending to remake them in the post-superstar era. Marino and newly acquired Mike Matheson have six years on their contracts. Pettersson’s five-year contract kicks in this season. Top pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin has three years left on his contract, and top d-man Kris Letang has two years remaining.
“We have a great group of D. Marcus Pettersson and Brian Dumoulin are signed. Kris Letang takes us under his wing,” Marino said, apparently unaware he is now able to use their hockey nicknames in interviews. “…We have a great group of guys, and we just feed off each other.”
For his second act, perhaps it will be John Marino who does some of the feeding.