One of the most interesting tests of Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarellli in his first year on the job will be his handling of not-a-prospect-not-yet-a-player Martin Marincin. There are a lot of directions the team can go here, and the path forward is by no means clear.
One of the interesting wrinkles here is Marincin’s postseason performance in Oklahoma City. David Staples watched the Barons’ playoff games this year for the Edmonton Journal and provided the following grade of the player’s work:
Martin Marincin, D: Word is he was sick and injured. Something wasn’t right. If you were to judge him on these eight, turnover-plagued, non-physical games, you’d say he was not a prospect. A tough time for Marincin to make a bad impression, but perhaps the new Oilers GM and coach will review the tape of the final 40 games of season, where Marincin played well for long stretches, at least until Jeff Petry was traded and he was asked to do too much.
Staples has taken some flak online for his criticism of Marincin’s postseason performance, but this looks like a pretty balanced take to me. The coaching staff clearly wasn’t happy with his play, scratching the defenceman for Games 6 and 7 of their second-round series, and given their vested interest in winning games it’s hard to argue that he didn’t deserve it. (It’s also worth pointing out that Gerry Fleming was the head coach; he formerly managed the defence and spent a lot of time working one-on-one with Marincin).
Apparently there were extenuating circumstances, and we have to consider the whole picture, but this is an incredibly unfortunate thing for a player whose future currently hangs in the balance.
A few days ago on this site, Matt Henderson offered a determined defence of Marincin. He went through the statistics in some detail, coming to the conclusion that while the player had several very different assignments “the numbers suggest good things were happening with Marincin on the ice no matter which one he was in.” He also pointed to Marincin’s cheap contract and upside as solid reasons to continue employing the player.
Staples and Henderson came at Marincin from different perspectives, but both pieces offer a part of the picture. Here though I’d like to take a third approach to assessing the player.
NHL Central Scouting uses a checklist approach to assessing draft prospects, and they share those checklists with the public. It’s a useful tool for going through exactly what a player does and doesn’t do on the ice and while I have some quibbles with methodology at the very least it’s a good starting point for figuring out exactly how a player does the things he does.
The full defenceman checklist is here; I’m not going to follow it religiously but use it more as a rough guide to the player.
Skating. Marincin scores well overall on this, especially for a big man. His top-end speed is good, his backward skating is very good and he’s quite strong on his skates. Mobility and acceleration aren’t necessarily going to blow anybody away, but given his size he deserves pretty strong marks in those departments, too.
Puck Skill. Not all puck skills are equal, but Marincin fares well in the most important ones. He’s a good playmaker, both taking and making passes with proficiency; this is an absolutely vital skill for a defenceman and I can’t think of a single effective NHL defender who doesn’t meet at least a minimum threshold in this department. He’s reasonably good at shielding the puck and doesn’t have problems handling it, either, though he’s no Patrick Kane.
(And yes, I was just looking for an excuse to include that video.)
He’s got a shot, too, though we haven’t seen much of it at the NHL level; he topped the 100 mile-per-hour mark in junior and scored seven goals on 98 shots as an AHL rookie (he has just four goals on 195 shots in the AHL/NHL since). He’d go a long way toward improving his standing as a prospect if he could get back to where he used to be as a shooter. As it is, his scoring touch is basically non-existent.
Physical Play. Marincin will take a hit to make a pass, but the truth is he’s a passive player physically. He wins puck battles because of his reach and his speed, not through dogged determination and high energy. He doesn’t hit to hurt; he doesn’t really hit much at all in fact. It’s hard to say exactly how much of his problem stems from a lack of physical strength and how much simply comes from a pacific attitude, but there have been hints down the line that the Oilers have concerns about his build and conditioning.
Hockey Sense. This is the one area where experience has clearly benefited Marincin. He was awfully raw in 2012-13 in the AHL, but his decision making has improved immensely. He’s generally calm with the puck, even under pressure, and in good position defensively – one of his real skills is in transition; he’s a joy to watch through the neutral zone whether shifting from attack to defence or defence to attack. He doesn’t have top level offensive imagination and at times he’s slow to react inside the defensive zone, but he gets reasonably good marks across the board on this from me.
Defensive Play. A lot of this is covered in other areas. On the whole, Marincin is a cerebral defender with strong positioning who is reliable even under exceptional pressure (he’s been employed in a shutdown role in each of the last two seasons, generally with solid results).
Competitiveness/Psychological Factors. I’ve combined these categories because I have some skepticism toward each; a lot of times what people read in the body language of players and teams says a lot more about what they want/expect to see than it does about what’s actually going on inside the player’s head. With that said, these things do matter. Marincin isn’t a fierce physical competitor on the ice; the truth is that he can be outworked and numerous times I’ve seen him beat to the net from the boards by a determined opponent. His English is still a little hesitant and talking to him last year the impression that I got was that he still didn’t feel very comfortable asserting himself. That’s just an impression, mind, and it’s not a terribly recent one.
TL;DR. Marincin has a lot of strong qualities. He’s a good skater, he’s adept at handling and passing the puck, and he generally makes intelligent decisions at both ends of the ice; in short he’s a cerebral player with puck skills and mobility (along with a 6’4” wingspan). On the negative side of the equation, he lacks a physical game, offensive imagination and he’s the antithesis of a ‘fire in his eyes’ player. Naturally, mileage may vary but that’s how I rate him.
It really all comes down to philosophy.
Some people are dogmatic on certain traits. I know I am; as mentioned above I would not under any circumstances employ a player who can’t hit a minimum standard in the take-and-make a pass department. Others feel that way about competitiveness and will not under any circumstances employ a guy they feel lacks combativeness; for some of them, Marincin is a non-starter. I value combativeness, but I’m not dogmatic about it; all players have warts and at the right combination of other skills/price point/team makeup I’m willing to sacrifice this in a limited number of players.
To me, Marincin does so many other things right that retaining him in a No. 5/6/7 role is a no-brainer. Firstly, he’s cheap; I’m guessing the Oilers could get him on a two or three year deal at six figures and there’s a lot of potential for him to outperform that contract. Big, smart, skating defencemen who can handle the puck are awfully hard to find. Tampa Bay has a similar (albeit even bigger) player in Andrej Sustr employed in this role and that team has had success with him there.
Marincin might never be more than a third-pairing option on a good team but he’s also only freshly turned 23. There’s still time here, and there’s room for him to shore up his weaknesses. If he could be taught to be more aggressive defending the crease and the approaches to it, his value shoots up dramatically, even if he’s never a bone-rattler. If he can be taught to be more assertive with the puck in the offensive zone, taking advantage of his powerful shot rather than deferring to teammates, that too could significantly increase his value.
The caveat in all of this is trade. Because Marincin is young and cheap and NHL-ready he’s an attractive trading chip to other teams. He’s a useful but not vital piece going forward and a general manager – in particular one extremely worried about upgrading his team’s competitiveness – might see him as an obvious player to sacrifice to improve at other positions. In the right trade, the Oilers would absolutely need to think about moving him.