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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

Not bad for a kid whom many Penguins had never heard of before the trade.

It didn't take long for the veterans to see that he could play. Rutherford opened up the opportunity by trading Erik Gudbranson to Anaheim in October.

"You could see it in preseason. The confidence grew pretty quickly for him," Jack Johnson said. "Once we got into some pretty big regular season games early on, that's when I think that us as his teammates really saw his capabilities."

A month into the season, Marino was already logging more than 20 minutes a night. He scored one of the team's more memorable goals of the year, burying a breakaway in his first NHL game back home in Boston. At season's early end, he had six goals, 20 assists and a Penguins-high plus-17 rating in 56 games.

The Penguins believe Marino has untapped potential offensively. His role on the second power-play unit confirms that. Defensively, he has a nice tool box with a 6-foot-1 frame, good mobility in all directions and surprising strength despite a slighter build. Plus, he can play with a mean streak in the battle areas.

Folks inside the organization say his confidence has surged throughout the season and his anticipation, already a strength, got better as each week went by. Coaches Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin had a hand in his emergence, too.

Coach Mike Sullivan believes Marino is a great fit for the aggressive way he wants his defensemen to play from the blue line in, quickly getting up in a guy's grill.

 

"His mobility really helps him," he said. "He closes on guys and takes time and space away from an offensive player as good as any defensemen we have."

If this is as good as Marino is ever going to get, well, that's pretty darned good considering the Penguins only had to give up a sixth-round pick to get him.

But as the stakes get higher and higher, he keeps getting better and better.

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