The Pittsburgh Penguins may have found something. It appears Penguins rookie defenseman John Marino will play in his third straight game Saturday when the Penguins visit Minnesota Wild.
The Penguins played with seven defensemen including Marino Tuesday night in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Jack Johnson, Erik Gudbranson and Marino primarily rotated through the lineup. The move to use seven defensemen was in part because the Penguins did not have 12 forwards ready for NHL action and in part to get Marino into the game.
“We put him in the lineup because we think he can help us win. He’s a good hockey player, and he’s shown a lot through training camp and up until this early part of the season,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “That’s why the decision was made to put him in the lineup in the first place.”
Sullivan freely admitted on Tuesday that Marino has a chance to win a regular spot.
“Yes, he does (have a chance to win a job in the top-six). That’s why he played (Thursday),” Sullivan deadpanned.
Saturday morning the Penguins presumed scratches skated, including defensemen Erik Gudbranson which means Marino is in, again.
Marino, 22, played just over 10 minutes in his NHL debut but played more than 16 minutes with defense partner Jack Johnson Thursday night. The pair were tight to the blue line and nullified several Anaheim rushes behind the Penguins 1-2-2 counter-attack scheme.
“Each game you learn a little bit more. Each game is different in its own way and you kind of learn how to play based on the flow of the game,” Marino said Saturday morning. “It’s been a learning curve so far, but pretty fun.”
Marino began to impress during the Penguins Prospects Challenge in Buffalo from Sept. 6-9. Marino’s standout work continued through training camp and preseason. The coaches couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the smooth-skating Marino and the Penguins heavy, physical defensemen such as Gudbranson and Johnson.
Penguins Trade Talk and Options
The Penguins trade chatter has also circled Johnson and most recently Gudbranson.
“(Johnson) has been great. He’s so smart. He’s been around the league for so long,” said Marino. “I’ve been picking his brain about certain things and plays on the ice. He’s been great to play with.”
John Marino has not yet registered his first NHL point and pushed the issue on the rush a couple of times Thursday night. The rushes resulted in a couple of turnovers and offensive pressure against, but the young player has proven to be adaptable to new situations. The desire to skate with the puck and the willingness to do so is also a positive. The Penguins have not had a third-pairing defenseman able to push the play.
Overall, the Penguins defense has not been blessed with superior skaters beyond Kris Letang and to a lesser extent Justin Schultz.
“Sometimes you need to step up, pinch and keep the puck in. And other times, you need to back off,” Marino said of his game. “It’s just all about reading the play. You just go out just make hockey plays and get a feel for it.”
The 6-foot-2, 193-pound defenseman declined to sign with the Edmonton Oilers this summer. Edmonton selected Marino in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Four years after the draft and after three years at Harvard, Marino was a pending college free agent. The Penguins gave Edmonton a sixth-round pick pending their ability to sign Marino.
So far, it’s worked out well for John Marino and the Penguins.