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PensBurgh Top 25 Under 25: #1 - John Marino

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The defender is the best young player in the Penguins’ system

NHL: MAY 26 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round - Penguins at Islanders Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

2021 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed

#25: Santeri Airola
#24: Jan Drozg
#23: Will Reilly
#22: Clayton Phillips
#21: Chase Yoder
#20: Kirill Tankov
#19: Raivis Ansons
#18: Lukas Svejkovsky
#17: Judd Caulfield
#16: Jonathan Gruden
#15: Kasper Bjorkqvist
#14: Jordy Bellerive
#13: Cam Lee
#12: Drew O’Connor
#11: Joel Blomqvist
#10: Isaac Belliveau
#9: Calle Clang
#8: Filip Lindberg
#7: Nathan Legare
#6: Tristan Broz
#5: Valtteri Puustinen
#4: Filip Hallander
#3: Samuel Poulin
#2: Pierre-Olivier Joseph

#1: John Marino
2020 Ranking: 1
Age: 24 (May 21, 1997)
Height/Weight: 6’1” / 181 lbs.
Acquired Via: Trade with Edmonton (July 2019)

Elite prospects resume:

Marino ends his T25U25 eligibility in the same spot he was last summer: at the top of the heap. He’s by far the best and most valuable young player in the Pittsburgh system now, having turned in two seasons of NHL play.

Although Marino’s offense was way down from his rookie season, he still saw his time on ice increase slightly from 20:17 as a rook to 20:44 last season. The Penguins are really counting on another small step forward, as Marino’s big contract kicks in and he makes the full transition from “great...for a young player” to hopefully just “great player”. That’s a big burden and expectation on a player with still just 108 career NHL games under his belt, but everything that Marino has shown in the last two years indicates he is up for it and ready for the challenge.

Related: Season in Review - John Marino

In a lot of metrics and deep dives, Marino was one of the very elite defensive defenseman as a rookie. His gaps were tremendous, his stick was active to deny opponent’s possession of the puck, his positioning was great and so were his results. That hit a bit of a downward slide in 2020-21, but mostly because when you’re at the very top of the mountain - there’s only one way to go. Interestingly, his even strength offense might not have taken as big of a hit as the boxcars showed.

The key is going to be seeing that QoC, quality of competition, rise. Part of the story of last season was just how awful the Mike Matheson - Marino pair was. That inspired the coaches to try Matheson and Cody Ceci which, against all odds, worked out pretty well. Ceci is now gone, and Pittsburgh has almost no choice but to turn to Marino for a bigger role.

Who Marino’s partner will be is a very interesting choice, with several reasonable candidates. Matheson could be tried again, with hopes both have more experience in the Mike Sullivan system and might perform better together in Year 2 than they did in Year 1 as a duo. Marino could also be working with Marcus Pettersson, the defender he was teamed up with for the stretch run last year.

A third, intriguing but creative option would be to try No. 2 on the T25U25, P.O Joseph out in the spot. Joseph might not yet be quite ready for a permanent role getting heavy NHL minutes, but he also has perhaps the best all-around upside to offer of any candidate. A Joseph-Marino pairing could well be a big part of the Pens’ future, even if that future isn’t necessarily going to begin this coming October.

Other player future’s aside, Marino by himself is a major factor with his six year deal that ties him to the Pens until 2026-27. Right now that’s the longest any member of the team is under contract. It’s a well-told story about how Marino came from practically out of no where to become a key NHL player, and now at the end of his T25U25 days, he is set up to be a core piece and an important player for the club for a long, long time.