Pittsburgh natives know a thing or two about athletes with the last name Marino. Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Dan Marino was born and raised in that city and found major success with the University of Pittsburgh before becoming a Miami Dolphin in 1983, and ever since Dan said “so long, and thanks for the fish,” the city has had plenty of heroes with different names. Pittsburgh natives also know a thing or two (or eleven) about championships. Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr brought home back to back Stanley Cups in ‘91 and ‘92. In 2006, Ben Roethlisberger became the youngest QB to win a Super Bowl, then he did it again with the Steelers in 2009. By then, two new stars had emerged with the Penguins, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin bringing home another championship later that year, after coming up just short the year prior. The Pens continued to be a threat every year until finally capturing the cup again in 2016, and then again in 2017, becoming the first team to raise the cup in back to back years since the 1997/1998 Red Wings. But in today’s world of modern sports there is a price to pay for success, and it’s inevitable that father time will come and collect his dues from the Penguins.
Crosby is 33 years old. Malkin is 34. Number one defenseman Kris Letang is 33, and neither goalie from the Pens recent championships is still with the team. An era is drawing to a close in Pittsburgh, but my message for Penguins fans is DON’T PANIC. A familiar name is on the rise and he very well could be a major piece in building a new Penguins dynasty. His name is John Marino, and he won’t win scoring titles like Crosby and Malkin, and he won’t drive the offense like Ben Roethlisberger or Dan Marino, but the 23 year old from North Easton, MA brings a solid two way game to the Pens blue line, is a coveted right handed shot and is a proven champion, winning the USHL’s Clark Cup in 2016 with the Tri-City Storm. You might already know him from his rookie season, when he got an opportunity in an injury depleted Pens D-core and never looked back, putting up 26 points in 56 games with a +17 rating. You also might know him from his $26 million six year extension he signed last offseason. You might already be calling for his head on a platter after his slow start to the year, as he is yet to record a point and is currently -4. I’m here to tell you this is only a mirage, Marino still has his towel and will be a key member of the Penguins for years to come. (3 Hitchhiker’s guide references in 2 paragraphs. I’m sorry, no more.)
Marino’s path to the Penguins was anything but simple. He had 28 points in 49 games in his draft year with the South Shore Kings of the USPHL, good enough to catch the eye of Edmonton Oilers scouts in the 6th round of the 2015 draft. Marino was selected 154th overall and remained unsigned, so he took his talents to Tri-City in the USHL, where he’d post 30 points in 56 regular season games and go on to become a Clark Cup champion. This performance caught the attention of Harvard University’s hockey program, where he would play for the next 3 years as property of the Oilers, finishing his career in the ECAC with 41 points over 101 games. He probably would have returned for his senior year at Harvard until his rights were traded to Pittsburgh in exchange for a 2021 6th round draft pick on July 26, 2019. He signed a two year entry level contract with the club shortly after, and when injuries struck the pens blue line, Marino went pro. He doesn’t dazzle with elite offense night in and night out, but his consistent level of defending and ability to move the puck while limiting turnovers was almost enough to get him in the Calder finalist conversation. His consistency was rewarded this offseason with a long term extension which may seem undeserved to some, but one look at his career so far should put those worries to rest. Don’t forget that we are still in a global pandemic, and the wildly different schedule set forth by the NHL this year may give players some growing pains as they adjust. It is way too early to accuse John Marino of a sophomore slump, and his history as a player is a great sign that he will once again find his stride, and his cap hit of $4.4 million AAV might just end up being one of the bigger steals of the decade, beside the Oilers giving him up in exchange for a 6th round pick in the upcoming draft. However, as a 6th round pick himself, Marino is proof that hard work and consistency matter way more than when you get selected in the draft.