John Marino could help restore the Penguins’ defensive depth
Penguins defensive prospect John Marino appeared in his first professional game, a 5-4 exhibition overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in University Park.
Given the Sabres dressed a lineup full of their regulars, Marino got an immediate impression of what it’s like against NHL-caliber players.
“Obviously, it’s a little different than rookie camp,” Marino said. “They had most of their (NHL) guys playing. Definitely a little bit faster.”
Also, it was a quite a bit harder.
About five minutes into the contest, Marino, a puck-moving defenseman who left Harvard a year early to join the Penguins, tried to push the puck from the defensive zone and through the neutral zone. Waiting for him was veteran Sabres defenseman Colin Miller, who thumped the 22-year-old Marino to the ice with a sturdy shoulder check.
That was something of a “welcome to the NHL” moment for Marino.
“A little bit,” he said. “Just trying to get the puck deep. That’s just kind of part of the game. It’s going to happen time to time.”
The rough reception from Miller didn’t deter Marino from trying to create offensively. In the third period, Marino went deep on the right wing into the Sabres’ corner and fed a pass through the crease that eventually led to a goal by forward prospect Sam Lafferty.
“They just gave me a little bit of space,” Marino said. “I kind took the ice wide. Sam made a great play. He crashed the net. I was able to put it home and found him out front.”
A sixth-round pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015, Marino never signed with that organization, citing an abundance of depth at the blue line.
“It’s no surprise they do have a lot of prospects,” he said. “That’s kind of how it played out.”
The Oilers opted to cut ties with Marino and traded his signing rights to the Penguins in July. In early August, he signed a two-year entry-level contract.
“Definitely an unbelievable opportunity here,” Marino said. “There’s just so much support here. Everyone plays the game so much faster. … I think that definitely fits my game.”
Marino also played in Thursday’s 4-1 home win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Penguins management appears to be impressed by the native of North Easton, Mass., especially considering he is wearing a No. 6 jersey as opposed to a “training camp” number more appropriate for an offensive lineman than an offensive defenseman.
“We’ve really liked him in the games,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s shown himself really well. He can really skate.
“He’s mobile. He’s got a long stick. He’s got a good reach. What’s really impressed me about Marino’s game is his ability and how quickly he closes on people defensively. He does a great job limiting time and space of our opponent, and he creates a lot of turnovers as a result. He’s had a good solid couple of games for us.”
Marino, along with Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Calen Addison, represents an influx of depth for the organization on defense among its prospect pool. Having seen the likes of Derrick Pouliot, Ethan Prow or Lukas Bengtsson fail to live up to expectations, the Penguins are hopeful they’ve restocked the pipeline on the blue line.
“These guys that we’ve added are good players, and they’ve got a lot of upside,” Sullivan said. “We’re excited they’re a part of our organization. We’re excited to watch them throughout the course of this training camp, and we’re going to have a number of young defensemen like we have now. We feel as though we have a lot of depth at that position, and it’s an important position.
“We’re all really excited about these guys. As we get more familiar with their respective games and figure out where they are and how close they are to playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, it just gets that much more exciting.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .