One of the major moves GM Tom Fitzgerald made in the Summer was to trade defenseman Ty Smith and 2023 third round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman John Marino. Back on July 16, when the deal was made, most of the People Who Matter - myself included - said it was a good trade. Smith was struggling in his sophomore season with the New Jersey Devils. The Pittsburgh Penguins were struggling with cap space and the league knew it. The Devils, wanting to be competitive more quickly, saw an opportunity. The Penguins, wanting to be cap compliant, took it. Based on what was known at the time, most felt the Devils got better on defense. At least on paper.
I expected John Marino to be a solid, stable defender for the Devils. Someone to strengthen the right side of the defense. What I never expected was for Marino to be this good. While it is just 7 games into the 2022-23 season, the numbers for Marino are absolutely astonishing.
His basic stat line at NHL.com reads as follows after yesterday’s game: 7 games, 3 assists (all primary), 2 penalty minutes, and 9 shots on net. Not exactly something that jumps off the page, but that’s pretty good for someone who has yet to top his career high of 26 points. His ice time at NHL.com is what you would expect. He is among team leaders in even strength ice time per game at over 17 minutes; he is among team leaders in shorthanded ice time per game at over 3 minutes; and he is averaging over 20 minutes in total. Marino is playing significant minutes on the Devils’ blueline. Where it gets amazing is when you look to what happens when Marino is on the ice.
According to Natural Stat Trick, when Marino is on the ice, the Devils have the following on-ice rates in 5-on-5:
- A Corsi against per 60-minute rate of 40.19 attempts. This is the 16th lowest rate in the entire NHL among all 230 defensemen who have played this season. Most of the players ahead of him in this stat have played just a handful of minutes, limited minutes in general, and/or are Brent Burns or Nick Blankenburg.
- A shots against per 60-minute rate of 11.85 shots. This is the 2nd lowest rate in the entire NHL. Not only the Devils, but the whole league of all 230 defensemen right now. Only Kevin Bahl has a lower rate with his 3 appearances and average 5-on-5 ice time of 10:10. Marino has this with 16:37 per game, which is absolutely bonkers.
- A scoring chance against per 60-minute rate of 19.07 chances. Chances are attempts, so these are not necessarily shots on net. This rate is 17th among all defensemen in the NHL, nestled right in between Burns and Dougie Hamilton. Only Ian Cole and Blankenburg have done this among defenders who’ve played a bunch and average at least 14 minutes per game. This is an extremely low rate and, again, ranks really well out of 230 defensemen.
- Likewise, his high-danger scoring chance against per 60-minute rate of 4.64 high-danger chances is really low. It’s the 10th lowest among all 230 defenders in the NHL per NST’s list. Brendan Smith edges him here. And Marino beats out Filip Roos and Nic Hague. Again, only Cole and Blankenburg can claim to be significant-minutes defenders for more than just a game or two and have lower rates. Still, this is a stupendously low rate on its own.
- As you would expect with such low SCA/60 and HDCA/60 rates, Marino’s expected goals against rate is going to be real low. And it is! It is at 1.27 xGA/60, which is the sixth lowest among all defensemen in the NHL. Utterly fascinating.
- Of course, what about actual goals? As contentious as Devils goaltending has been already in 7 games, Marino is certainly not involved with the bad parts of it. Marino’s actual goals against per 60-minute rate is 1.03. There are 21 defensemen who have yet to see a GA in this season so far, so Marino’s rank for GA/60 is just 33rd. Out of 230. It is still impressive and also a bit better than Alex Pietrangelo, Cale Makar, and Montreal’s Johnathan Kovacevic, whom I imagine we will hear a lot more about soon because Montreal.
These figures will certainly not last as the Devils as a whole have been caving in opponents in 5-on-5 almost regardless of what their goaltending does or does not do. The grind of the season, the travel, and more games against playoff-caliber opponents will do that. Still, this kind of a statline to start a season is ludicrously good. Marino’s 5-on-5 numbers are not just fantastic on their own or the best on the Devils among the defensemen who have played in all games. He is legitimately one of the best defensemen in this young season so far.
What’s more is that these are all just the against rates. Marino has not at all been an anchor for the Devils forwards flying in front of him. The most common of which include Jack Hughes, Erik Haula, Yegor Sharangovich, Tomas Tatar, Dawson Mercer, and Jesper Bratt all recording 30+ minutes with him already in 5-on-5. The percentages in 5-on-5 when Marino takes a shift is just ridiculous: a CF% of 62.86%, a SF% of 73.86%, a SCF% of 66.36%, a HDCF% of 75%, a xGF% of 70.56%, and an actual GF% of 77.78% (7-2 and Marino helped create 3 of those goals). The Devils are basically dominating when #6 is on the ice in 5-on-5.
And as most of the People Who Matter who have taken in a game (or seven) so far can attest to, Marino is no passenger. He has been adept at killing opposition attacks with good defensive plays. He has made exactly one (1) costly error for a goal against way back in the season opener (the Morgan Frost goal) and I do not know if it was so much Marino or what the coaches wanted him to do. Marino has been solid in positioning, solid in recovery when needed, solid along the boards or in space, solid in playing the puck up to the forwards or clearing it or going D-to-D, and solid at pinching in when the attack is happening. His activation has been far from a liability despite his lack of offensive pedigree coming in. As an example, look at his primary assist to Dawson Mercer’s goal last night in Detroit. Marino goes in, maintains control, fights through a check from a bigger player, maintains control through a stick on the ice, and finds an option before getting caught - which led to a goal. Marino is just taking care of business and it has been wonderful for the Devils.
That is all at 5-on-5. What about the shorthanded play, another area where Marino plays a lot? This will not shock you, but it has been quite good. Among the 112 defensemen who have played at least 10 minutes of shorthanded ice time this season, here is how Marino ranks in each against-rate stat at Natural Stat Trick:
- Corsi against per 60-minutes: 60. Even. This is the 7th best rate among all 112 defenders.
- Shots against per 60-minutes: 39.13. This is the 20th best rate among all 112 defenders.
- Scoring chances against per 60-minutes: 33.91. This is the 11th best rate among all 112 defenders.
- High-danger scoring chances against per 60-minutes: 23.48. This is the 58th best rate among all 112 defenders and perhaps the only non-impressive stat I put out there about Marino since his basic NHL.com stat line.
- Expected goals against per 60-minutes: 5.73. This is the 28th best rate among all 112 defenders.
- Actuals goals against per 60-minutes: 0. Yes, 0. No PPGAs against Marino yet this season. He is one of 15 defensemen who have played at least 10 minutes of PK time to have yet to see a goal against. Out of all of them, only the Islanders defenders (Ryan Pulock, Alex Romanov, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic can claim to play a lot on the PK and remain goalless so far.
The Devils’ penalty kill success rate is sixth in the league at 90.5%. Marino is a big reason why it is that high at the start of this season.
John Marino is basically playing like Andy Greene (who used to wear #6) or Paul Martin (who was close and wore #7) did when they were at their best. Just like Greene and Martin, Marino is not out there throwing pain bombs or storming the offensive zone every other shift. What he is doing is efficient, he is executing very well, he is making a lot of the right decisions and reads on the ice, and what he does contributes greatly to the team’s success. When Martin and Greene were at their peaks in New Jersey, that’s what they did from the blueline. Marino is showing everyone who did not get a chance to see them (or do not remember them so well) what exactly that looks like. And it is fantastic.
I do have to acknowledge that this will not last for long. Again, the grind of the schedule is real and the Devils are not going to be out-shooting every opponent by 15+ every night. They will play tougher teams. They will have tougher nights. Everyone - and I mean everyone - makes mistakes and I am sure Marino will make his as well. But the first 7 games of John Marino have been better than even what the wildest expectations I could have from him. I really doubt he is going to fall of the face of the Earth over the next 75 games. I think he will end up being one of the best skaters this season even if he keeps up even only 80% of what he’s doing now.
I cannot stress enough how impressive he has been so far so soon with New Jersey. Already, I am willing to declare him the best acquisition by Fitzgerald in this offseason and could argue the best one Fitzgerald has made as GM so far. As he is 25, I am already looking forward to what he could for New Jersey for this season and for the remainder of his now-economical-looking contract that runs through 2026-27 at a $4.4 million cap hit. Am I worried about this paragraph and post blowing up in my face in a few months? A little. But only a little because John Marino has done a lot already in just 7 games to convince me that he deserves this whole post of praise.
Does this mean he’s Devil of the Month? Well, no, but you know who that is unless the next two games change things dramatically.
Thanks are deserved for Tom Fitzgerald and Ron Hextall for making this trade. Most of all for Marino for being so amazing right away for the Devils. Please keep this up as much as you can. And thank you for reading.