Penguins' Martin: 'I just need to be better'
There is a Paul Martin that Brooks Orpik knows, and he is not the player Penguins fans saw a lot of last season.
This version of Martin is a player almost no casual fan would notice.
“You're taught as a young defenseman that sometimes the best games you have are when people don't say anything to you. You kind of blend in and you're just doing your job,” Orpik said Tuesday after 18 Penguins players practiced at Consol Energy Center.
“Certain guys, the way they play, like (Kris Letang), are flashier. The way those guys play it's, like, ‘Wow!' There's different levels of different guys.
“Paul, when he's at his best, is not that ‘wow' factor guy. I'd say if you don't notice him, he's probably having a really good game, a really good year.”
Penguins general manager Ray Shero expects not to notice Martin all that much this season, Martin's third since signing a five-year deal worth $25 million July 1, 2010.
No defenseman has ever made more for the Penguins.
The only defenseman who has made as much, Sergei Gonchar — he signed a five-year, $25 million contract in July 2005 — also struggled early during his contract.
“And he turned out to be a really good player,” Shero said. “Paul is a different type of player than Sergei, but when Paul is playing his game, he's a really good player for us.
“It's up to Paul to get there.”
Martin practiced with Penguins teammates for the first time Tuesday.
He worked drills with Orpik, who coach Dan Bylsma said will be Martin's defense partner when the NHL season opens Jan. 19. (Expect Matt Niskanen to pair with Letang.)
Martin is aware he was nearly traded to Nashville at the NHL entry draft. He knows Penguins fans will ride him the second after his first errant pass. He understands his contract makes him a potential candidate to be one of two players the Penguins can buy out after this season.
He is intent on not letting any of those thoughts mess with his mind. Martin shared what he is thinking with the Tribune-Review:
Q: First day back, so what were you able to do in the offseason to get ready for this campaign?
A: I've been in Minnesota. There's a lot of Minnesotans in the league, so we've been skating there, working out there, and it's been good.
Q: Ray has been pretty up front about conversations you and he had about the season you're looking to have this year. What is the one thing you need to do better than last year?
A: In general, for most parts of the game, be better at both ends of the rink. Defensively, offensively — moving the puck, and in general, I just need to be better.
Q: You're a proud guy, so what is the opportunity about this season that excites you most, and do you view last season as a disappointment or a motivator?
A: A little bit of both. In this room, we know what we're capable of and how good of a team we have. Last year was disappointing, but it definitely will motivate us, with a shortened season, to take advantage of it. Hopefully we'll be there down the stretch.
Q: The way you and Brooks will mesh as a defense pairing is intriguing. What do you like about his game and how it might mesh with what you do well?
A: Brooks, obviously, you know what you're going to get every night. There's physicality, and he moves the puck well. He's intense. We'll feed off each other, and it will be a good match.