The Edmonton Oilers may have something special in a young kid from Kosice, Slovakia.
Martin Marincin, a 21-year-old defenceman, made the jump to the NHL this season and the organization was given a glimpse of the future of their blueline. He has since then played ‘excellent’ in the eyes of his head coach and, on some nights, has earned the distinction of being the team’s ‘most consistent and solid’ defenceman.
But where did this revelation on the blueline come from? It’s been an interesting journey that took him over 7,800 kilometres away from his hometown to where he is today.
“My town is the second biggest city in this country, in Slovakia,” Marincin said. “It’s a great country. We have a lot of good people there a lot of tourists come there. It’s a great city.”
Marincin played for HC Kosice at the U20 level in 2008-09. He scored 26 points (11-15-26) in 49 games and played for his home country at the U-18 World Junior Championships that year. The next season, he played for the Slovakian U-20 team and skated for the U-20 and the U-18 World Junior teams.
Although he had options to stay in Europe, having been drafted fifth overall in the 2010 KHL draft, Marincin left his home country to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL.
“It is hard, but that’s hockey life,” Marincin said of leaving home. “Every player has this same problem. But when I am older, I will be different because I had to survive and it will stay with me and I will be better.”
He was taken in the second round, 46th overall, by the Oilers that year and headed to Prince George to play in the WHL.
“I think better hockey is here and I want to play in the NHL. I want to do everything (to do that), so I came here.”
Coming to North America was not without its bumps.
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE
“When he first came over, Marty was a real offensive defenceman,” said Marincin’s coach in Prince George, Dean Clark. “Obviously, 6-foot-4 with lots of reach and he can defend as well. One of the biggest obstacles we had, at the time, was that his English wasn’t the greatest. He did bring a lot of offensive flair to his game, he competed very, very hard and did a lot of good things for us.”
Marincin found himself away from home and unable to communicate or understand much of the language being spoken around him. It was a struggle that would continue to affect the young man.
“That was tough for me,” he said. “I knew just, ‘Hi, how are you?’ That’s all. I just tried to talk with guys, when I was in Prince George. They had one guy from Czech Republic that knew Slovak. He helped me a lot. In Prince George, I had great billets. They were talking with me, always (every day). They tried to teach me English. In Prince George, there was one Slovakian family. They tried to help me too. After the first season I got, from the Oilers, two teachers. They helped a lot with my English.”
“The biggest thing for him was the language,” said Clark. “The Oilers helped out and got him a tutor and everything else. The transition wasn’t as quick as I would have liked or maybe even the Oilers would have liked but certainly, there was an issue with the language and him understanding some things, but he has all the tools.”
Oklahoma City Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson met Marincin in Penticton, B.C. for Marincin’s first prospect tournament. The language barrier was evident.
“On the bench in Penticton, his first Young Stars Tournament, I was talking to him about something on the play and he goes, ‘yeah, yeah. My name’s Martin.” Nelson said with a laugh. “He has gotten better with the language barrier. It’s tough for these young guys to come over and not know the language. You’re trying to teach and work with them. We definitely noticed the first half of last year, the language barrier was very tough, but he has gotten a lot better.”
Language difficulties aside, Marincin won people over with his personality from early on in his career.
“He’s a great young man,” said Clark. “He’s very personable. Once you get to know him, he’s got a great sense of humour. I think for him, once he learned the language he got more comfortable. I think he was a little bit nervous at what he was trying to say at times. Now, with having a better grasp of the language, I think he’s obviously a lot more comfortable and as you know, having been around him, he’s a good young guy.”
Marincin skated in 67 games that first season with Prince George and scored 56 points (14-42-56). The potential was beginning to show, but he still had work to do.
“For a player that is that big, he has great feet, he shoots the puck real well… The other thing was, he needed to get stronger. He was a big, 6-foot-4, kid, but he didn’t have a lot of muscle on him. I think that’s something that over time, once he fills out, he’ll be a big, strong man.”
6-foot-4 Martin Marincin made his debut for the Barons in 2011, playing one game, before returning to the WHL to finish out his junior career. In 2011-12, he played for Prince George before moving on to the Regina Pats and then onto Oklahoma City for six games.
“I know he spent some time in Oklahoma City, which I think was a good thing for him,” said Clark. “I think there’s still a little bit of a development curve for him and I think, just the strength of the game he’s got to catch up too with that, as far as some players. But certainly, I think the sky is the limit for this guy.”
Photo by Getty Images
It wasn’t until last season that the defenceman really cut his teeth on professional hockey. Marincin played 69 games for the Oilers’ primary development team and recorded 30 points (7-23-30). He was also a big asset in the playoffs, with seven points (1-6-7) in 17 games.
“We saw him grow from a player that was being really up and down the first half of the season, where he’d make a spectacular play on one shift and the next play he’d make a horrible play,” Nelson explained. “He was either turning the puck over or making a bad decision. I think after Christmas last year, he really took it to the next step. He was very consistent and he was a big part of our playoff run last year.”
THE TURNING POINT
Last season was also the NHL work stoppage, providing the Barons with some of the Oilers best players. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz all played with OKC. Marincin benefited from learning from those players. Offensively, he excelled when paired with Schultz, but his defensive game needed a reboot.
Photo by Steven Christy
“I think he grew offensively, playing with Justin,” Nelson said. “We had to split them up, maybe around December, because for what he was giving us offensively, he was lacking defensively. That was the part of his game we really wanted to focus on because we knew he had some offensive ability. But, I think he’s developed into a player where his stick is unbelievable. He has good stick-to-puck, all of the time. He’s got great reach, he’s very rangy and I think the thing with him is he just has to mature and he has to get stronger. If he gets stronger in those areas, it will help with puck battles in the corners but just watching the progression with him has been pretty impressive.”
This season, Marincin has come as close as ever to putting it all together and becoming the big, solid and competitive defenceman that the Oilers, and every team in the NHL in fact, covets. His hard work is paying off.
“Martin had a great head for the game, always,” said Oilers Sr. Director of Player Development, Rick Carriere. “His biggest thing is strength and he’s working on that. He’s almost getting up to 200 pounds now, he’s strong. He’s a very solid two-way defenceman. He’s good positionally, he’s got a great stick and a good sense of anticipation and he’s going to continue get better in the NHL.”
Nelson added, “I’m very proud with the way he’s playing right now. Hopefully, he can maintain and be consistent with that up there.”
“He has got stronger, even if he doesn’t look it. He has been getting better in that area and he’s stronger in the corners than I expected this year. He’s figuring out a way that if he cannot handle a guy in the corners, he uses his stick to his advantage and he’s just playing a smarter game. I think the biggest thing with his game is that he’s more complete now, he can provides some offence for you but also defensively he’s doing a great job.”
Photo by Getty Images
The Oilers were so pleased with Marincin’s development that they gave him his first NHL call up in December. After briefly being reassigned to the Barons and then recalled again, he has stuck with the big club.
“The kid’s shown a great amount of growth early,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “Usually when you get a call-up like that, a lot of times what happens is they give you a couple of good games and then everything settles down for them and they become not so effective. And you usually see them heading to the minors for some more seasoning.
“But Marty’s gone the other way so far. He’s gotten better each night, he’s more comfortable, he’s not on the ice for a lot of chances against, which is encouraging.”
Marincin’s first head coach in North America mirrored Eakins’ sentiments on comfort being a factor in the player’s performance.
“The thing for Marty is, it takes him a little bit of time to get comfortable,” Clark said. “Once he does, he really starts to blossom as a player and a person. I look for him to just keep getting better, getting stronger and getting more opportunities. I think the Oilers drafted him in the second round. That’s a great pick. I think he’s going to be a big player, but he’s got some offensive flair and when he does fill out and get as strong as he can be, I think he’s going to be a big pillar for the Oilers.”
GOING FOR GOLD
The successes for Marincin this season have begun to pile up. He was selected to represent his country in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I was excited,” he said. “That’s great, you know? Every hockey player wants to go there but, I’m still here. I’m trying to work hard here. I know I’m going to the Olympics, I’m excited. But, I’m still here so I’m trying to work hard and make the team here.”
Growing up in that country, he never expected this to come to fruition.
“I had no idea about this,” he laughed. “I just played hockey because I like it. It was fun for me. When I got older, I started looking towards the NHL and for Olympics and everything. When I was small, like a kid, I just played for fun.”
All of the influential people in Marincin’s career were overwhelmed with excitement and pride over the announcement.
Photo by Getty Images
“Very proud, very proud,” said Nelson. “What a great opportunity for him, a tremendous honour and he’s earned it. I couldn’t be any more proud of Marty going there and representing his country. I think it’s a great story. Last year at this time, if you would have asked me, I would have said I don’t think it’s going to happen. What a great story. I think after this experience, he’s going to come back and play even better because of his experience there and having that confidence to play at a very high level.”
Clark added, “I’m really happy for him. He played a significant role when he was playing for his country, when it came to World Juniors and those tournaments… It’s excellent. I think it’s just part of the natural progression. I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be able to play lots of minutes and lots of Olympics for that team. I think he’s going to have a real long and bright career.”
Being selected to represent Slovakia in the Olympics has been the biggest accomplishment of the young man’s promising start to his career. When he goes to Russia, it is going to be an invaluable experience where he can learn from playing with and against the world’s best athletes.
One of his teammates for Slovakia is Boston’s mammoth defenceman, Zdeno Chara. This is an opportunity for Marincin to observe one of the NHL’s best big, physical defencemen and learn to be more assertive.
“I’m going to try sometime to talk with him about hockey and everything, but I think maybe we’ll be busy there,” Marincin said. “So we will see, but I will be looking at this guy and what he’s doing and just learn what he’s doing.”
“Well, it’s kind of ironic that they both played in Prince George,” Clark added. “That will be a little bit of something they can talk about. I think that’ll be good for him, having somebody that’s kind of been through the same thing as he did. Zdeno didn’t jump right into the position that he was either. He was traded and went through different things but has developed over time into obviously, one of the best defencemen in the league. I think having him mentor (Marincin) and just being around a person, like Zdeno, I think will be great for Marty.”
Although the Olympics is looming on the schedule for the defenceman, in the back of his mind, it’s all about the Oilers and doing everything he can to stay where he is. As of this moment, he doesn’t know if his spot on the roster is set in stone.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I never know what will happen today, maybe tomorrow. I just try and work hard every day. In the games, I’m feeling better and better, every game. I’m just trying to work hard and I never know what will happen, in the future.”
It’s been quite the journey from Slovakia to Edmonton for Marincin, and it looks like it may have been a one-way ticket.