At his press availability on Wednesday, Dallas Eakins was lobbed a softball question about rookie defenceman Martin Marincin, who has been one of the few pleasant surprises on the team this season. Rather than extol the defender’s virtues, Eakins chose to focus on the challenge still ahead of the player.
The Coach’s View
There are still challenges with his game. I think the best way to put it is he’s played well for a first-year defenceman, and same with Oscar [Klefbom]. In that game last night we’re playing against a Stanley Cup contender and we’ve got two guys that are so green on our back end. Again, it’s hey, this is what it’s going to be like basically every night in our conference because our conference is loaded with teams like that. You have to learn very quickly, if you’re going to turn into an NHL defenceman – and I mean an NHL defenceman is one who is going to play 82 games a year, every year, not ‘hey, let’s see what he can do under these circumstances’ – then you’re going to have to win the battles, you’re going to have to be able to play against Thornton and Marleau and Backes, all these guys. It’s like I spoke about right when I came in here, it can’t be ‘well, he did okay but he’s young.’ It doesn’t matter, you have to be able to play and you have to be able to win against those other players that you’re going up against every night, and that’s the challenge for a guy like Marincin and Klefbom.
So, to recap: There are still problems with Marincin’s game, he’s playing well for a rookie but the team’s at a point where ‘he’s playing well for a rookie’ isn’t good enough, and he needs to show he can be an every night defenceman.
The chart above shows the 10-game rolling Corsi averages for the four real defencemen currently on the Oilers’ roster (data courtesy of ExtraSkater.com). It shouldn’t be taken as an absolute guide as to the ability of the player, but it does show what’s happening on the ice.
In Marincin’s case, what’s happening is largely good. His line (purple) has been consistently ahead of the other three (regular partner Jeff Petry is marching in lock-step) and that’s despite a pile of starts in the defensive zone and some tough competition.
Which is Real?
So which is the correct view? Is the coach right that Marincin still needs a lot of work, or are the numbers correct in that he’s NHL-ready right now?
I think the answer is probably ‘both’.
Marincin’s got a big frame but he’s still lanky and he’s not especially physical for a guy who stands 6’4”. More than that, he’s prone to brain cramps in front of his own net (which puts him in the same class as every other defender on the roster).
With that said, there are enough good points here right now that they’re driving on-ice results. Watching Marincin defend his own blue line is a real treat; he has such great reach that he can make a poke check play when an opponent comes within reach and still have enough space to stay in front of that opponent if it doesn’t work. He can take and make a pass, even under pressure, and that’s something the current Oiler blue isn’t especially good at.
He’s one of a bunch of players the Oilers need to be better if they’re ever going to pull out of the NHL basement. But he’s also a guy who drives results, and that’s something Edmonton has nowhere near enough of on the back end.