February 11 2014 10:01AM
Brief as it has been, Slovak Martin Marincin has impressed just about everybody in his first look-see with the Edmonton Oilers. Now, the pencil-thin defenseman gets to spend a couple weeks up close and personal with boyhood idol Zdeno Chara. Think that might help him learn the ropes?
I can't say for sure how much, but I can't imagine spending the Sochi Olympics as a teammate of Chara with Slovakia is going to do anything but help Marincin, especially if he spends every moment making like a sponge as he plays and practices alongside the 2009 Norris Trophy winner and captain of the Boston Bruins.
Would spending a couple weeks playing golf with Tiger Woods lend a young man some insight about what it takes to hack it on the PGA Tour? Might an aspiring NFL quarterback learn a thing or two picking the brain of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? You get the drift. Of course it would.
That's the opportunity that awaits the 21-year-old Marincin, who'll pull on Slovakian colors in Sochi after looking more composed and poised than anybody expected in 22 games with the Oilers after being called up from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.
Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins made sure of that, introducing Marincin to Chara when the Oilers were in Boston Feb. 1. Looks like the six-foot-nine, 255-pound Chara will be taking Marincin under his considerable wing span.
SETTING IT UP
"I was calling in a favor," Eakins said of hooking Marincin up with Chara in a piece written by Chris Westcott on the Oilers website. "I’ve gotten to know Chara over the years. I saw him, at a very early age, with the New York Islanders. I was there at training camp the one year and I saw him starting to put in the work.
"He was obsessed with it. He’s turned into, for me, one of the top players in the game, a guy with extremely high character, great work ethic, extremely humble and I had talked to Marty about his Olympic experience and the importance of him asking Chara a lot of questions."
"I know Dallas from my first few years with (New York) and he saw me at the beginning of my career," Chara said. "Maybe there are some similarities with Martin.
"He just kind of asked me if there would be a time and chance to maybe give him some advice if I would be able and willing to do that. I said of course. I’m always willing to help or give some advice if I may. He was obviously very kind to come over and say hi. I really appreciated that. It means a lot."
Marincin, as you might guess, was pumped about meeting Chara, a player who is nothing short of a national hero back home. "That was a big moment for me because he is like, my idol," Marincin said. "That was great meeting him and talking with him about Sochi so I was so excited."
"I think it’s huge," Chara said of Marincin experiencing the Olympics. "Just to be in the big spotlight, on the big stage with the best players in the world, I think it’s always helpful and it’s a great experience. Everything about it is probably a good thing for not just him, but everybody."
WATCH, LISTEN AND LEARN
Marincin, who was taken 46th overall by Edmonton in the 2010 Entry Draft – that's 10 spots higher than Chara, who went 56th overall to the New York Islanders in 1996 – is almost as gangly as Chara when he broke into the NHL. Marincin has just 187 pounds on a six-foot-four frame – he's sort of a mini-me version of the Boston behemoth.
While Marincin, surprisingly, has seldom looked out of place so far on the Oiler blue line, it seems to me the Olympic break comes at a perfect time for him. Young players, especially defensemen, like Marincin can sometimes get by on adrenaline when they first make the jump to the NHL. Once they've been around a bit, opponents get a better read on them.
It's almost guaranteed Marincin is going to hit rough spots along the way as opponents get the book on how he moves and his tendencies – the ability to close gaps, how he reacts to fore-checking pressure etc. Every team the Oilers play will have eyes on him now, be it live in the rink or via video.
The Olympic break in Sochi gives Marincin a chance to digest everything he's taken in through 22 games in preparation for the stretch drive with the Oilers. To re-set. And he'll do it alongside one of the dominant defensemen of the last decade. I'm guessing the Oilers hope just a little rubs off.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.