If you met Paul Martin
randomly on the street and had to guess his profession, NHL hockey player probably wouldn’t be your first choice.
Off the ice, the Minnesota native tends to be quiet, soft-spoken and unassuming. And while his style of play may be similar in that he isn’t especially flashy, make no mistake about his effectiveness and his value to this Penguins team.
The man voted the team’s “Defensive Player of the Year” last year has carried over that season’s fantastic play to the start of this one, continuing to prove his worth as an all-around defenseman who logs important minutes in every situation.
“I think he’s one of those guys where as a fan, if you go watch him once or twice, you might be like oh, what’s the big deal about this guy? But the more you see him, the more you appreciate him,” defensive partner Brooks Orpik said. “He plays every situation and a pretty consistent guy too. So a lot of times that goes under the radar just because he’s kind of opposite of (Kris Letang).
“’Tanger’ is so dynamic. You can watch Tanger for 20 minutes and he jumps right out at you. That’s where those two guys (differ). They’re both really good, but just completely different styles. I think ‘Pauly’ likes it that way. It kind of fits his personality, too. That’s kind of the way he is off the ice.”
Martin currently leads the Penguins with 25:57 minutes per game, is averaging 4:21 minutes a contest on the power play on the team’s top unit, and is also one of the first defensemen over the boards for the penalty kill with Orpik.
“(Looking at) his minutes through the first 12 games and what he’s done for our team, he logs a lot of important situations,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Penalty kill, power play, other teams’ top lines or top offensive players with Brooks Orpik for the most part every night. Those are tough minutes and tough situations. … And (what he does is) not real flashy or highlight film, but he’s been huge for us.”
What’s especially notable about his work on special teams is that since Martin practices on the power play at team skates, he doesn’t get any work on the penalty kill. He has to rely on his knowledge of opposing players he’s accrued over his career as well as the coaching staff.
“I think the coaches do a good job of scouting and letting us know what to expect,” he said. “I think being in the league for a while, you know players’ tendencies and what they like to do and for the most part, a lot of it is just the reading and reacting of trying to make a play when it’s there.”
Martin may attend more team meetings and spend more time on the ice more than any other Penguin, but if it’s wearing him down at all, it certainly doesn’t show.
“He’s a guy that a lot of times we laugh on the bench because it looks like he’s not even breaking a sweat,” Orpik said. “He’s just so efficient the way he plays.”
To be honest, Martin said, skating as much as he does has the opposite effect on him.
“I think as a defenseman or as anyone, you take a lot of pride in what you do,” he said. “And to have that accountability from the coaches and know that they put you in there in those situations, you definitely take a lot of pride in that. And almost sometimes the more you play, the better you feel.”
But it’s not just that he’s on the ice a lot. It’s what he does when he’s there. Martin is the type of player that makes incredibly smart and cerebral plays on both ends of the rink that may not always be noticeable in their impact, are very much appreciated by his teammates and coaches.
Take Monday’s game in Carolina, for example. Martin made a brilliant play in the defensive zone that led to the Penguins second goal, and followed that up later by clearing what would have been a sure goal out of the crease if he hadn’t been there.
What his forwards appreciate the most about Martin is the way he handles the puck. Just watch him when he has it in the next game. No matter how much pressure or how little time he has to make a play, he never panics and throws it away.
“He’s pretty calm with the puck,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “It doesn’t matter the situation, he shows a lot of poise back there. He’s really smart; it seems like he makes the right play every time. So I think he just brings that sense of calm to our team and can handle the puck and create a lot of plays for us.”
The Penguins have had to deal with injuries to their back end early, with Letang missing the first nine games and Rob Scuderi now out indefinitely with a broken ankle. Martin is prepared to keep doing as much as the team needs him to do.
“I feel good,” Martin said. “I’ve just been trying to build off last year and how we finished the season. So far it’s been good, they put me in a spot to play minutes. (Playing) with Brooks makes it easy too. And the team’s doing really well, at the top of our division, so that helps.”