John Marino's sophomore season has gotten off to a terrific start.
The Penguins announced on Jan. 3, just one day before the on-ice portion of training camp was set to begin, that they had re-signed the 23-year-old defenseman to a six-year contract extension with an average annual value of $4.4 million.
The deal begins with the 2021-22 season, as Marino has one year remaining on his entry-level contract.
"You're definitely just soaking it all in. I don't know if it's really hit me yet," Marino said. "But it's a pretty cool experience, just thinking back to when you were skating as a kid and your parents were taking you to the rink and how all of that sacrifice has paid off. It was pretty cool to be able to experience it with my family, friends and teammates.
"I'm glad we could figure something out and I'm glad I can be a Pittsburgh Penguin for years to come."
Video: John Marino talks Pens and a 6 yr contract extension.
It's the latest chapter in a remarkable story that began when the Penguins originally acquired Marino from the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional sixth-round pick.
It was a trade that didn't make any big headlines at the time, but one that proved to be hugely impactful as Marino made the Penguins out of training camp after opting to turn pro following his junior season at Harvard, and developed into a top-four defenseman with a bright future in Pittsburgh.
He's proud to be part of a blue line that is a good balance of young defensemen like himself, partner Marcus Pettersson and newcomers Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci, along with veterans Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin.
"I think it's important to stay with a team that really wants you and wants you to develop and progress as you go along in your career," Marino said. "It seems like a great fit with the coaches and my teammates."
Some of the highlights from Marino's breakout rookie season included six goals and 26 points in just 56 games, which ranked fourth among NHL rookie defensemen; a team-high (tied) plus-17 despite missing 11 games with facial bone fractures; and making his postseason debut in the Qualifying Round versus Montreal.
The entire time, Marino impressed his coaches and teammates with his calm and poised demeanor, playing with a maturity beyond his years as he continued to improve with each passing day. He feels that the biggest key to his success was trusting his game.
"Playing the game the right way and doing all the little things," he said. "Obviously, there's so many factors that go into it. Coaches, how you progress in the offseason, learning from your teammates. There's a lot that goes into it, but lucky enough it was all able to come together and there's still a long way to go."
Now, Marino is entering the 2020-21 season with the confidence that comes with having more experience along with the knowledge that the Penguins think so highly of his game.
"We are very fortunate to have a young, skilled defenseman like John in our organization," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We were impressed with his strong defensive play, and look forward to watching him develop offensively."
The 6-foot-1, 181-pound blueliner uses his skating, size and reach to make good reads and anticipate plays. He excels on closing in on opponents and taking away their time and space. He wants to continue being consistent defensively and adding penalty killing to his repertoire.
Offensively, the Penguins felt he showed some growth last season, which earned him some time on the second power-play unit. Moving forward, Marino said he wants to work on being more confident with the puck in the offensive zone.
"When you're first coming in as a rookie, your first instinct is that you don't really want to mess up," Marino said. "You want to just play it safe, make the right play. So I want to maybe just be a little more aggressive on the rush, things like that. Not get too crazy, but I think confidence just kind of comes with it. You already have a year under your belt. You know your teammates better. Hopefully the chemistry is there too. So hopefully it just takes care of itself."
Building that chemistry in a short period of time is one of the goals for training camp, which will last just 10 days before the regular season begins on Jan. 13. It's going to be a challenge, but one the players will embrace.
"I think everyone is really ready to get back and really excited to see each other," Marino said. "It's been a good start so far."