What are the Oilers going to do with Martin Marincin?

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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.

Differing Reviews

Martin Marincin

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.

The Checklist

Assessments

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.

What Now?

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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.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Oilfred

    We need to stop burying kids at 23.

    Playing D is hard and only the few elite make it before then.

    Stop saying you want the Detroit model when what you want is the schizoid model of complete madness.

  • Darth Oiler

    If the Oilers this summer are like a car you took to the mechanic, he is like a power window that sticks a little bit. Other parts need a major overhaul.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Making a decision on Marincin now is the wrong decision.
    He was beat up, I can give him that.
    Sign him cheap, pencil him in on Bakersfield top pairing next year.
    Give him another couple years working his way into the team.
    I’m

    • pkam

      I believe Marincin has to put on the waiver if we want to send him to the minors, and I can’t imagine him clearing the waiver.

      So if we are not willing to sign him to a one way deal, then trade him instead of taking the risk of losing him to the waiver.

      • HardBoiledOil 1.0

        The Oil have had plenty of time to evaluate him. He would make excellent trade bait, along with others. Defense wins games. Look at our current active roster defense and ask yourself how well that roster compares to ANY team that made the playoffs. Maybe keep Fayne and Klefbom. The rest would not make top 4 on any playoff team so before you suggest we keep our defense, consider this:

        The average GA for playoff teams was 204 and the Oil were worst in the league at a humbling 276 – the easiest goal to get is the one you don’t give up. We were 11th worst in Avg. Shots Against/game at 30 so, in combination with the worst save percentage in the league (by a wide margin) at 88.8%, we can’t keep the puck out of our net.

        We need 2 top 2 pairing defenders and a goalie. We have to give up something. Perhaps packages with draft picks will get us partway there. What we don’t need is more average/below average D as we have too many of those already. Package up one or more of Nikitin (yes we will have to eat some of his contract), Aulie, Marincin, Hunt, Simpson, Shultz etc., add a dash of draft pick and, hopefully, voila.

        If we added 2 top 2 paring D, and add in the fact that Nurse is coming: who would no longer fit? They are expendable.

  • Darth Oiler

    I’m glad to see Sustr get a mention. A 24 year old guy like him could be something special. Given the cap situation in Tampa, I bet we could get him for a pick.

    • NJ

      Probably not. If they are in trouble they don’t trade the cheap guys away. :/ wishful thinking!

      Edit: he made 900k last year … He’s an RFA this year. He’s going nowhere. 🙂

      • pkam

        They don’t have any cap space this year. He needs a contract. He played third pairing minutes behind four veterans who do have contracts. Tampa must manage over seven million in rising salaries (Bishop and Coburn). Tampa must also look forward to 2016, when they’ll have to throw big raises at Stamkos, Killorn, and Kucherov.

        The logical conclusion is that he is a movable piece. Perhaps they would be more inclined to move Coburn or Carle. They surrendered a lot for Coburn, and Carle is overpaid at 5.5 for the next three years. Sustr was signed as a UFA. Their asset management would remain sound if they were to attain a pick for him.

        It isn’t wishful. It’s just thinking.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    Rather have MM than Ference,NN,Jultzzz. Marincin just need the right coaching staff and a reliable partner to mentor him on D. It’s been awhile since we had some promising prospect on D (Nurse,Klefbom) We should not rush their development.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    Ask Jason Zucker if MM has a mean streak or is competative. He was laid out in the 2011 World Juniors and is still wondering what the hell hit him. That’s the player we want and need and when combined with all of his other skills will be a great asset.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    In some organizations (St. Louis, Detroit, and to a degree Chicago and LA) defencemen not drafted in the top 10 are unlikely to see much time on NHL roster before the end of their entry level contracts. Anaheim appears to be the exception with Lindholm, Fowler, and Vatanen and now Despres. Three of those defensemen were first rounders and Vatanen has developed into an offensive force on the backend. So ignoring the Anaheim’s success, it would appear defencemen typically need some time to adjust to the increased speed and strength required in pro hockey.

    Marincin reminds me of Petry in his early days in Edmonton. Quite mobile, could take and make a pass and criticized as being soft (non hitter). Petry eventually led the Oilers defensemen in hits (maybe because he simply played more than the rest of them). If the player is separating the opposition from the puck, the hits don’t have to be bone crushers. There are also many techniques players can use besides brute strength to nullify the forward who makes a living around the crease.

    I am not sold on Ramsey being the defensive mentor he gets credit for. It has been mentioned over and over how hard it is to develop players at the NHL level, but techniques can be demonstrated and repeated over and over in practice. Veterans also play a role in mentoring the young guys by sharing the nuances they have acquired to remain competitive in the NHL.
    Veterans like Jason Smith and Steve Staios were good examples of veterans who appeared to model effective defensive play in their own zone.

    Before we unload players like Marincin for pennies on the dollar (he was acquired for Riley Nash–a first round draft pick), we should take a close look at the situation he has been expected to develop in (as a third round pick).

    I would be curious to hear Bob’s take on the development model for defensemen in his recent audit.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    In my eyes there is no reason to believe at this point that he won’t continue to improve.

    He would be a valuable player to a team giving up a top pairing defenseman as they try to grow players up the depth chart.

    So whether he’s traded in a package for a proven top four, or given the summer and a training camp to earn a starting spot I won’t worry too much about this player.

    Good article.