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Penguins see top pair in John Marino's future as he shines in playoff spotlight

Matt Vensel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Hockey

"It's incredible," fellow defenseman Kris Letang said. "He's been a really important part of our team. He plays a lot of minutes and in a lot of situations. He's a really calm and poised guy. He has all the tools that a player can ask (for). He's just going to get better and better."

How much better? We took that question to Jim Rutherford on Tuesday.

"He's still at an age where you know he's going to develop, he's even going to get better," the Hall of Fame general manager replied. "And I would suspect that in a short period of time that Marino will turn into a guy in the top pairing."

In the first two games of this series, only Letang got more minutes than Marino among Penguins. Like Letang, he has a role on both special teams units. And along with second-pair partner Marcus Pettersson, Marino keeps getting the nod for defensive zone starts, crunch-time minutes and other high-leverage shifts.

The Penguins have earned 58.3% of the scoring chances with him on the ice during 5-on-5 play. He is often out there with Evgeni Malkin's line, which has looked dangerous in spurts and seems poised to break through in the next game or two.

"John can handle any situation," Rutherford said from his home here. "Mentally, he's very strong. He has the skill level to do what he needs to do. Physically, he's strong. He skates well. He's a smart player. So for anybody that watches him on a regular basis or knows him, at this point it's not a surprise to anybody."

 

Kevin Stevens has known Marino, who grew up outside Boston, since he was a kid. His son, Luke, played youth hockey with him. Kevin coached him some.

The tough power forward who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup twice in the 1990s is now a scout with the team. Along with Scott Young, Stevens pushed Rutherford and the Penguins to go get Marino from the Oilers. They believed he was ready to play right away and could someday be a top-four blue-liner.

"Everything they told me was exactly what has come true," Rutherford said.

Now, Rutherford admits he didn't see this coming so quickly, with Marino arguably being the team's top defenseman in the first two games of the playoffs. But when he watched Marino more than hold his own in training camp and the preseason back in September, he was certain that he would settle in as a regular.

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