Just when you thought the injury bug was leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins, it stings again. This time, it hit standout rookie defenseman John Marino, who took a Steven Stamkos shot to the face late in last Thursday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Injuries have been like a broken record for the Penguins this season, as Marino now joins fellow defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forwards Dominik Kahun, Nick Bjugstad, and Jake Guentzel on the shelf. Dumoulin, Kahun, and Bjugstad are expected to return in the near future, but it’s uncertain when that will be.
Is He Hurt or Not?
Originally, there were a lot of unanswered questions regarding the incident that left Marino bloodied. Head coach Mike Sullivan said on multiple occasions that Marino was being held from practices and out of the game against the Florida Panthers as a precaution. He was trying to be optimistic. In Sullivan’s original assessment after the game, he said Marino was, “going to be okay” leaving fans with high hopes for a quick return.
Shortly after a practice in Sunrise, Fla., a rumor began to circulate that Marino was going to need surgery to repair his cheekbone that was broken in three places. This came from a source “close to the player,” making nothing official. As it turns out, the rumor was true and Marino had surgery on Monday afternoon.
When the rumor first began to spread, there was no time frame for his return. Even after the Penguins confirmed he needed surgery, Sullivan stated that there was no timetable. The surgery was successful and the team then made an official statement that he will miss three to six weeks.
Nothing New for Hockey Players
NHLers have been known to play through facial injuries. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has donned a protective guard on multiple occasions, including a pair of games earlier this season against the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers. The most famous occasion was when he took a Brooks Orpik puck to the face that knocked out multiple teeth in 2013. Penguins fans will remember that that game, against the New York Islanders, as it was the last time the team ever wore a blue uniform, and it was Jarome Iginla’s first game in Pittsburgh.
Former Penguins forward and assistant coach Rick Tocchet was also known for wearing a face guard. On March 15, 1992, Tocchet broke his jaw but refused to miss the remainder of the game. He received 12 stitches and added a face guard to his helmet, then returned to the ice. He went on to score two goals in a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
When Marino takes the ice again it could be with the help of a little extra protection.
Rookie of the Year?
Marino is in the midst of an outstanding rookie season, with five goals and 20 assists. His 25 points rank eighth in Penguins scoring, ahead of forwards Patric Hornqvist (22) and Dominik Simon (21). He is by far the Penguins’ best rookie and recently became the seventh defenseman in franchise history to record 20 or more assists in their first season.
On a team that has seen injuries to both of their top pairing defensemen and other countless man games lost, Marino has been one of the best and most consistent players on the team. Making the team out of training camp, he quickly moved up the depth chart past Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel. Marino made his NHL debut on Oct. 6 against the Winnipeg Jets, and he hadn’t missed a game until this injury.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford acquired the rookie blue-liner from the Edmonton Oilers for a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Given the way Marino has played this season, this deal is already considered one of Rutherford’s best moves in Pittsburgh. Marino was a sixth-round pick by the Oilers in 2015.
Marino also has more points (25) than the top three picks from the 2019 NHL Draft; Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, and Kirby Dach, all playing in the NHL, have 19, 19, and 17 points respectively.
Assuming Marino had stayed healthy and was able to keep up his stellar pace, he would have received some votes for a Rookie of the Year nomination. The Calder Trophy will be hard to win this season, with Colorado Avalanche’s Kale Makar and Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes both reaching the 40-point mark with over a month left, though Marino has has fought hard to be in that conversation. A nomination is still possible if he can make a fast recovery.
Marino is a valuable part of the Penguins’ defense core and he should have a long future in the NHL. Recovery from an injury to a young player should not be rushed. Expect his time missed to be closer to the six-week mark, and don’t be surprised if he returns to the lineup sporting a face guard.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.