Newly-acquired defensemen Pierre-Olivier Joseph and John Marino were paired together in their first game as Penguins, a 4-3 loss to Boston at the 2019 Prospects Challenge in Buffalo on Friday.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci, who was behind the bench for Pittsburgh, liked what he saw from the duo.
"I think both are going to be outstanding NHL defensemen," he said. "They just need a little bit of maturity and development. They're both big guys, have great sticks. Both of those guys together, I thought they played really well."
It's been an interesting summer for the two prospects, both acquired in separate trades. Joseph came to Pittsburgh along with Alex Galchenyuk from Arizona in exchange for Phil Kessel on June 29, while the Penguins sent a 2021 sixth-round draft pick to Edmonton in exchange for Marino on July 26.
Marino, who was originally drafted in the sixth round (154th overall) by the Oilers in 2015, will be making the transition to the professional level this upcoming season after signing a two-year entry-level contract with Pittsburgh on Aug. 8.
"After the trade, I talked to the organization and management and it felt like the right fit," Marino said. "Luckily enough we were able to figure something out and I was able to come here and represent the team."
Marino previously played three seasons of college hockey for Harvard, where he tallied 42 points (7G-35A) in 101 career games. This past season, he dressed for 33 games, registering three goals and eight assists for 11 points.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Marino's development was accelerated this past season and he became a top-10 defenseman in college hockey, giving himself a chance to play at the NHL level. Marino believes the biggest reason for that was being in more of a leadership role.
"Junior year is a lot different than sophomore year," he said. "Obviously it's only one transition, but you go from being an underclassman to an upperclassman and having a lot of guys looking up to you. You're kind of forced to step up. I think that helped out a lot."
Marino, who measures 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds, is a mobile defenseman who excels at moving the puck while also playing with an edge to his game.
That was certainly on display this afternoon, as he didn't hesitate to join the rush and carry the puck to the net when he had the chance. It's something he's been working on in order to take his game to the next level.
"I want to contribute more on the offensive blue line," Marino said. "Work on my shot, little things on the offensive blue line where I can contribute and get more points, stuff like that."
Marino had strong chemistry with Joseph, who was drafted in the first round (23rd overall) by the Coyotes in 2017. Joseph initially experienced a lot of mixed emotions surrounding the trade, saying that he felt like he had a strong development camp with Arizona so the move was somewhat of a surprise for him.
But now that the emotions have settled, Joseph is happy to be with an organization like the Penguins.
"I walk in and I see the big names on the wall, I mean, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey and all these guys," Joseph said. "It's just fun to see the logo and be part of this organization."
Joseph describes himself as a two-way defenseman who can move the puck well and has a high hockey IQ. Like Marino, Joseph is tall - measuring 6-foot-2 - but wants to keep adding weight to his frame.
"He is lanky, but I thought he was a bigger kid, he showed me some size today," Vellucci said. "His smarts are very good. Very smooth on the ice. Got a good, long stick."
Joseph just finished his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, split between the Charlottetown Islanders and Drummondville Voltiguers. He compiled an impressive point total, amassing 47 points (9G-38A) and a plus-36 in 62 games.
Joseph also hopes to make the transition to the professional level with the Penguins this season, summing up him and Marino's situation perfectly following Friday's game.
"New teammates, new coaches, new organization, but the goal is the same."