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Shocking Trade: Penguins send John Marino to New Jersey for Ty Smith

The Penguins and New Jersey Devils swap a pair of young defensemen

New York Rangers v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Six Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced a surprising trade on Saturday, striking a deal with an in-division team to send John Marino to the New Jersey Devils. NJ will be sending back Ty Smith, a 22-year old former first round pick in 2018 and also a third round pick in next year’s NHL draft.

From the team:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired defenseman Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round draft pick from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman John Marino, it was announced today by general manager Ron Hextall.

Smith, 22, is signed through the 2022-23 season and carries an average annual value of $863,333.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Smith completed his second NHL season in 2021-22, appearing in 66 games and recording five goals, 15 assists and 20 points while averaging 17:30 minutes of time-on-ice per game. His 66 games played, five goals, 45 hits and 73 blocked shots were all career bests.

The left-handed shooting Smith has played in 114 career NHL contests over two seasons where he’s notched seven goals, 36 assists, and 43 points. Smith was named to the NHL’s ‘All Rookie Team’ in 2020-21 after leading all rookie blueliners in assists (21), points (23), and power-play points (7) that season.

Prior to his time in the NHL, Smith enjoyed a four-plus season junior hockey career with the Spokane Chiefs from 2016-20. With the Chiefs, Smith recorded 235 points (45G-90A) in 240 games and won the Bill Hunter Trophy, awarded to the top WHL defenseman, in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. He was also named the WHL (West) All-Star team in each of his last three seasons with the club and was also named the CHL’s Defenseman of the Year in 2018-19.

A native of Lloydminster, Alberta, Smith has represented his home country on multiple occasions, including winning gold medals with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in 2020 and Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2018.

Smith was originally drafted by New Jersey in the first round (17th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft.

The acquisition of New Jersey’s 2023 third-round pick gives Pittsburgh nine selections in the 2023 NHL draft - one in each of the first six rounds and three in the seventh round.

The shocking part isn’t that Marino was traded, his name was listed as one the most favorable and in-demand defender that the Pens had to offer, but that Marino was traded to a division opponent. And for a left handed defenseman, an area that Pittsburgh is already over-stocked with Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson and Pierre-Olivier Joseph signed for next season and left shots.

Pittsburgh signed Jan Rutta in free agency, who will serve as a right shot defender with Kris Letang, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman, so the Pens still have the good fortune of depth on the right side of their defense. (Though, without Marino, the question of if the depth is quality enough beyond Letang is certainly reasonable).

Clearly this move is just another precursor for Hextall and the Pens to move out a left-shot defender.

The good news is this frees up space on the salary cap for the Pens, with Marino’s $4.4 million cap hit for five more years departing, and Smith only counting $863k against the cap, for a savings of just over $3.5 million. Pittsburgh is currently showing just over $4 million in cap space, with 12 forwards, 8 defenders and 2 goalies on the roster (CapFriendly is counting Drake Caggiula against the NHL cap outlook for now. not).

The perhaps not-so-good news is that Smith is a player who has been having troubles in New Jersey to establish himself as a quality NHL defender. As the draft pick going from NJ to Pittsburgh indicates, Marino is a better player at this point.

But Smith is only 22, and only played two NHL seasons — both coming on extremely weak New Jersey teams. We really haven’t seen him in a competitive situation with quality coaching and teammate play to know just what his ceiling could be.

The Penguins clearly think they can get something more out of Smith in a new place and as he continues to develop. He did not have a good season in 2021-22 by all accounts, but was skilled enough to be a first round pick and never play even one game in the AHL while coming up through the Devils’ organization.

We’ll have much more on Smith and the breakdown of this deal, but for now the Penguins have made yet another move that seems to create more questions then answers and will surely lead to further movement this summer for at least one more defender from the roster getting traded to balance out the team as they move into the 2022-23 season.