Colorado Avalanche right wing Joonas Donskoi is checked off of the puck by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman John Marino

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY

Grove: Penguins Rookies Must Continue To Impress and Prove Themselves

Bob Grove
October 18, 2019 - 10:16 am

That the Penguins were missing five regulars for their victory over the unbeaten Colorado Avalanche earlier this week only made the night more satisfying for everyone in the Pittsburgh organization. But that probably was doubly true for management.

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Every game that Mike Sullivan and his coaching staff continue to get solid performances from rookies Sam Lafferty and John Marino not only justifies their reading of organizational talent but strengthens GM Jim Rutherford’s position in the trade market as he prepares for the day when everyone is healthy. Believe it or not, that day will come.

Today, the entire front office has more knowledge about the NHL readiness of both players than anyone could have expected them to have when training camp opened a little more than a month ago. They had their suspicions that Lafferty, coming off a very good AHL season, was close to earning himself a look; the injuries took care of the timing. With kudos to their scouting staff, they also suspected Marino would be a very nice fit in an organizational depth chart that needed help on defense and thus plucked him from the Edmonton Oilers in a July trade.

Five games into their NHL careers, it’s hard to find any serious fault with either one.

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Lafferty has five points, has played both right wing and his natural center position, has killed penalties and has generally showed he has not only the speed but the vision to play in this league. He finds open spaces without the puck. He backchecks. He reads plays. He wins faceoffs.

Marino has demonstrated surprising patience with the puck and an ability to make quick and correct decisions. He, too, has been used on the PK. He skates well, jumps into rushes at the right time and does little things like using his body to shield opponents from pucks and putting touch on passes in his own zone.

Another impressive thing about Marino is that he has not found himself in the lineup because of injuries but simply has forced Sullivan’s hand with his consistent play since the start of training camp. He’s been so good he’s made healthy scratches of NHL veterans Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson, both of whom have been rumored to be part of trade conversations.

Now comes the hard part for these kids.

They are both to be commended for coming onto the scene and quickly becoming productive members of a team that has won five of its first seven games. But if they want to stay, there’s no dialing down the need for consistency. Everyone has bad nights, but neither of them can afford any kind of noticeable drop in their play. And if they’re both still here when the injury list is empty, they get the added challenge of proving they can play in this league every night over the course of five more grinding months.

At the moment, you wouldn’t bet against them. And even if they do return to the AHL, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, you’d also bet that the day is coming soon when they get recalled to Pittsburgh and never leave. That’s what happened to Jake Guentzel, if you recall. These two have been very impressive, but the tryout, as it were, is not even close to ending.

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