Penguins’ John Marino Proving Doubters Wrong With Hot Start

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman John Marino enters his third season in the NHL in 2021-22. While he came out like a house on fire as a rookie, Marino slowed down a touch last season in his second campaign, and the doubts started creeping in from Penguins fans. As we’ve all seen early on this season, he is the real deal and has come to silence the doubters.

So far, in three games this season, Marino has got off to a blazing start with one goal and three assists. Considering after a rookie season of 26 points and only reaching 13 points last season in 52 games, reaching four points this early is a wonderful sign. Marino has seen his minutes hover around the 23 minute-mark so far in 2021-22, and he’s been paired with Marcus Pettersson early on. A pairing the Penguins coaching staff loves and hopes can stay together for years to come.

Marino Bulking Up During Offseason Paying Off

One of the many facets of his game that he wanted to improve on was his strength, and let’s just say early on you can see the rewards of the hard work. Marino looks stronger on his feet and is harder to knock off the puck. Sure, it’s still early, but playing defense in the NHL is hard enough, playing it undersized is even tougher. It’s great to see Marino put in the hard work and that’s going to benefit him even more as the season proceeds.

Related: Penguins’ Kasperi Kapanen Ready to Breakout in 2021-22

The Penguins defender showed in his rookie season he wasn’t going to shy away from contact and finished the season with 72 hits in 56 games. Last season, the number dipped to less than one hit per game, however, this season Marino is back on pace for one hit a game and while he’s never going to be the most physical defenseman, he doesn’t have to be. The Penguins’ number three defenseman just needs to be strong enough to accept the hits and to dish them out when the time comes.

Cody Ceci Leaving Town Helps Opportunity and Confidence

One of the reasons Marino struggled in 2020-21 was the fact he was pushed down the depth chart in Pittsburgh and it seemed to have an impact on his confidence. He wasn’t as sure on what outlet pass to make or when to join the rush and it just seemed like having Cody Ceci in the mix, who had a great season with the Penguins, really hurt Marino. This play below against the Dallas Stars is a prime example. Watch how much confidence he has to make a risky play at the blue line, then proceeds to head to the front of the net and get rewarded. There were times last season this would not have been the case at all.

The four-game point streak is a wonderful way to start the year for the Brockton, Massachusetts native. It seems as if the Penguins have found a nice second pairing to complement Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin in Marino and Pettersson.

With Letang’s Contract Status, Marino’s Development Crucial

Penguins management has a ton of questions to answer this season and into next as Letang is in the final season of his contract. Currently making $7.25 million, with another solid season, he’s going to expect a raise and at this time, it’s hard to say if the Penguins would consider making the deal. Because of this uncertainty, Marino’s development is absolutely vital for the success of the franchise.

Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang could be in his last season in Pittsburgh (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Marino is signed for five more seasons at $4.4 million and this contract could become one of the best steals in the NHL should the right-handed defenseman keep on this development curve. While some things Jim Rutherford did under the helm made you scratch your head, you have to give the ex-Penguins general manager some credit for seeing something in Marino’s game and to convince the player to sign on the dotted line.

The Penguins are one of the early surprises this season as with injuries to their two best players and a number of question marks on their roster, the team has come out and quieted the noise. Perhaps none more than Marino who has decided to put the sophomore slump behind him and is showing he’s ready to take his game to the next level in season three.

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