Penguins rookie John Marino’s homecoming big for Kevin Stevens, too
BOSTON — Saturday’s game was nothing out of the ordinary for Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman John Marino.
Sure, the Edmonton Oilers selected him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, and he wore their jersey for his draft day photo complete with a hat and a faux dressing room background. But beyond that and a development camp, his connections with that franchise were threadbare, at best.
He opted not to sign with Edmonton and has regularly cited an overabundance of prospects in the Oilers’ pipeline as his reasoning.
So was Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss at home to the Oilers significant?
“No, not too much,” he said. “I didn’t look into it at all. I just kind played it like any other game.”
Monday’s outing, however, was not like any other game for Marino.
The native of North Easton, Mass., played in front of several friends and family at TD Garden in the Penguins’ 6-4 loss to the Boston Bruins.
“A lot of ticket requests,” Marino said. “I kind of let my parents figure that out and sort itself out.”
Marino has sorted out life as an NHL player rather quickly. That was evident when the rookie scored his first career goal Monday in the building he attended many times as a fan of the Bruins.
After serving a two-minute minor for tripping and surging out of the penalty box, Marino collected an errant pass by Bruins defenseman Torey Krug on the Penguins’ side of the center line. Marino reversed course and chugged into the offensive zone, creating a breakaway.
Fending off Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Marino slid a backhander through goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s legs with three seconds left in the second period to give his team its only lead of the game. Teammates mobbed him while several loved ones reveled in the milestone.
“I was just trying to skate as fast as possible, get away from the defender,” Marino said. “It was a special moment there with family and friends. Something that I’ll always remember. That was pretty cool. “
Perhaps the only other person in attendance who could have offered a louder cheer was Kevin Stevens. The Penguins’ former star power forward-turned-scout was in attendance Monday. Stevens, along with director of player development Scott Young, made a passionate recommendation to general manager Jim Rutherford that prompted the team to acquire Marino’s rights from the Oilers in June.
“He played with my older son,” said Stevens, who scouts in the Boston area. “I coached him (when) he was 8 years old. We had a great team, too. We’d play all the best teams in the country growing up. You could see he was just a steady player, a steady defenseman. I just always thought he was a pretty good player. It was a matter of him developing. He got better. He kept getting better in college (at Harvard). I do a lot of college free-agent stuff, so I see him play a lot. He was one of those guys we got lucky became available. And I really liked him.”
Said coach Mike Sullivan: “Our hockey (operations) department thought very highly of John and his overall game. He got highly recommended by the guys that work for our scouting department that watch him on a regular basis. And they did tell us he is a guy that’s going to challenge for your lineup. And they were right.”
Marino has two points in 13 games while primarily being used on the third pairing with Jack Johnson.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Marino said of Johnson. “He’s been around the game for so long. Each game, I’m trying to pick his brain. Come back to the bench and ask him about certain situations. We seem to be playing pretty well together and kind of reading off of each other. So it’s been good so far.”
Marino’s ascension is even more impressive when you consider the jump he has made from playing at Harvard as a junior last season. The NCAA schedule is far shorter — and typically restricted to only weekends — than a typical professional schedule.
“It’s a lot different,” Marino said. “In college, you’re only playing 30, 32 games. We’ve already played a handful so far. It’s different. You treat your body different. You take it day by day. The practices are, I wouldn’t say less intense, but they’re shorter. They’re faster paced. You just kind of adjust as you go.”
Including preseason, Marino has played 18 games this season. By this point of the calendar with Harvard last season, he had played in four games. And he never played in more than 35 games during a season with the Crimson.
“It’s a significant jump,” said Sullivan, a product of Boston University. “Just the logistics, the amount of games that you play in and of itself, is an adjustment for players that go from college to the pros. But John’s done a great job. He’s done nothing but get better since Day 1 of training camp. He’s earned his way onto this roster, and he continues to earn his way onto this roster.”
Beyond the slick goal he scored Monday, Marino’s defensive work has made an impression and he has gained the trust of Sullivan and staff.
“He’s a real good defender. He’s a good, strong skater,” Sullivan said. “He closes on people as good as any defenseman that we have. He’s got a good stick. And then what I think what’s really impressed us is his ability to make outlet passes. He’s got poise with the puck. He finds that little pocket option in the center under pressure pretty well for a guy that’s new to the league. He’s getting better with every game that he plays.”
Notes: The Penguins practiced in Newark, N.J., on Monday. … Defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang and forward Evgeni Malkin did not participate. Sullivan told reporters Letang still was being evaluated for the undisclosed injury he suffered in the third period Monday. Malkin was given a “maintenance day.” Dumoulin returned to Pittsburgh after the birth of his son Monday. … The Penguins called up forward Sam Lafferty from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … The Penguins have a scheduled day off Wednesday, then face the New York Islanders at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Thursday.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .