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2020 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: #1 John Marino

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We finally reach the conclusion of our countdown of the best young players in the Penguins’ organization. It can’t be a shocker, the king this year is none other than John Marino!

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Two Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Our annual, 2020 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

2020 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Radim Zohorna
#24: Judd Caulfield
#23: Will Reilly
#22: Jan Drozg
#21: Sam Miletic
#20: Lukas Svejkovsky
#19: Jonathan Gruden
#18: Niclas Almari
#17: Clayton Phillips
#16: Jordy Bellerive
#15: Anthony Angello
#14: Kasper Bjorkqvist
#13: Calle Clang
#12: Joel Blomqvist
#11: Valtteri Puustinen
#10: Josh Maniscalco
#9: Cam Lee
#8: Drew O’Connor
#7: Nathan Legare
#6: Pierre-Olivier Joseph
#5: Samuel Poulin
#4: Jared McCann
#3: Marcus Pettersson
#2: Kasperi Kapanen

#1: John Marino, RHD

2019 Ranking: #NA

Age: 23 (May 21, 1997)
Height/Weight: 6’1, 181 pounds

Acquired Via: trade with Edmonton, July 2019

Highlights:

Elite Prospects Resume:

Every NHL team’s dream is to have a young, ready-made top-four right handed defenseman fall into their hands, step into the NHL instantly and make them better, on an entry level contract to boot. It rarely ever happens. In fact, it almost never happens. A player just doesn’t go from being about the fourth most important defenseman on a middling college hockey team and emerge as a solid and legit NHL player.

Somehow, it happened for the Penguins with John Marino. The perfect confluence of scouting, timing, opportunity and ability.

It’s a well told story in the last year, and deservedly so being as it was so extraordinary.

The future looks pretty good too. The Penguins can give Marino all the work he can handle moving forward, especially with Justin Schultz now out of the picture. Will that mean more opportunity for power play time? It seems like it could.

Marino’s strengths are well-rounded enough where the options look open. As a rookie, one of the best aspects of his season is month by month you can just see the growth prior to an injury in early February from a puck to the face.

Marino playing 21+ minutes could finally be the relief valve the Penguins need to lessen the burden on Kris Letang. Letang at age 33, still finished fourth per game in average time on ice per game in the whole NHL (and was only a few lazy changes per game from being second in the NHL). Marino blossoming into a great second pair option on the right side will finally be the transition that Pittsburgh needs, and just in time too as Letang rounds the corner towards his mid and late 30’s.

Marino has excelled in the defensive areas of hockey that belie his lack of experience. He’s a great skater and thinks the game well, and with a stick in his hands he’s able to do a lot of the subtle defending that matters so much, then has the ability to turn the play the other direction.

It would be one thing to use a top 10 pick like Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes to bolster an organization and add an elite young defenseman to an organization, but the fact the Pens got Marino for practically for free* from Edmonton just kicks the win to a sweeter taste.

(*The Pens traded a conditional sixth round pick to the Oilers, if Marino elected to go back to Harvard for his senior season, the condition was Pittsburgh didn’t have to send the pick. The fault isn’t Edmonton’s for not wanting to sign Marino, they did, but he didn’t want to sign there because he perceived Edmonton having players like Ethan Bear, Phillip Broberg and Evan Bouchard would make his path to the NHL tougher).

End result is a dream come true, which almost never ends up the way it did. Pittsburgh almost literally got a diamond in the rough for a now-23 year old defender who has some of the best metrics in the league, can play 21+ minutes in any situation and flourish.

That realization makes a first, Marino (who was acquired after the 2019 T25U25 was started, but probably would have projected in the 17-19 area) goes from off the charts to number one this year. And while the Pens don’t have a ton of great young talent, Marino would hold his own as a key young player in any organization fortunate to have him.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, it’s their organization.

Thanks for joining us on our later than usual countdown of the top young players in the Pittsburgh organization, hopefully next year this can shift back into being a summer series again!