Martin Marincin finished in the eighth spot but was ranked as high as five (by me, for one) and as low as 15. He is the highest ranked player on the list with a wide spread in rankings, as there's much more consensus on the top few choices. No one should be surprised, Marincin has always been a contentious player amongst fans and perhaps a bit of an enigma.
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Marincin was born in Kosice, Slovakia and grew up playing for his hometown club. He was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2010 with a second round pick, and he moved to the WHL and the Prince George Cougars the next season.
His move to Canada is reminiscent of Tobias Lindberg's career path—plucked out of his European club system as a junior and put on a Canadian junior team. Both players had extremely good results in Canada.
Marincin scored more goals in that season in Prince George than he ever had before, and perhaps ever will. He had 14. He also had 42 assists and looked like he had blossomed into more of a complete player who could one day make the NHL.
That version of the Prince George Cougars was an odd one. Marincin was fifth on the team in scoring, and the only other NHL player who I recognize on the roster is Brett Connolly, a somewhat notorious draft bust who is about to start playing on his fourth NHL team at a salary of $850,000. He was the Cougars' top scorer.
In Marincin's second year in Prince George, he crashed back down to his more usual sort of scoring numbers as the team lost Connolly and didn't seem to gain anyone of great value. Marincin was traded to the Regina Pats partway through the season and did marginally better offensively on that team.
The AHL-NHL Elevator
In 2012, he played a full year in the AHL in the Oilers organization and had another good offensive output by his standards, scoring seven goals and 30 points. That was good enough for eighth overall in scoring on a team led by our old friend Mark Arcobello. There were some other forwards on the team you might recognize, what with the lockout and all: Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Marincin then embarked on two years of splitting his time between Edmonton and Oklahoma City, and he did not blow anyone's doors off in either place. Without the high-octane forwards in the AHL, his points dried up, and in the very disastrous years in Edmonton when they changed coaches more often than their anti-freeze, he didn't impress anyone.
In his first year on the Oilers, he and Mark Arcobello led the team in Corsi For percentage while playing about half a season each. Neither of them busted 50%. Below them were Jeff Petry, a defender the Oilers couldn't make sense of, and Anton Belov, who is now a good defensive defender in the KHL. The core of the team was significantly worse in shot differential, with the exception of Eberle.
Marincin achieved his numbers by being one of the best players on the team at shots against (CA60) and shots for (CF60). His relative Corsi numbers were tops, and the amount that he improved the overall situation on the ice for his teammates was substantial. He had the second worst individual shot rate on the team, however.
In his second year, things were very different. The core of the Oilers was performing better, putting up CF% numbers in the 50%+ range, but Marincin's stayed the same. He dropped in both the CF% and Relative CF% ranking to eleventh on the team and his impact was team average, neither good nor bad.
The gross Corsi numbers are consistent, but his relative ranking on the team is a huge red flag that he was not producing good results like he had in his previous season. The difference in his usage from one year to the next was profound and offers a clue as to who he really is.
He played with good teammates his first year, logging some decent time with Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, but in his second year, he was backing up the worst players on the team most of the time. And the Oilers outdid themselves in icing bad depth players that year.
Whenever he was on the ice with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, glorious things (by Oilers standards) happened. Just like that in that magic lockout year in the AHL with those same two forwards. The rest of the time, there was no glory to be found.
The Oilers traded him for a fourth round pick and the rights to Brad Ross last summer, essentially selling him for almost nothing.
In Toronto, everything was different. Marincin was looking at Mark Arcobello riding the bus between the AHL and the NHL—okay, that was the same—but he was the top CF% defender amongst regular players, beating out Jake Gardiner by a hundredth of a point.
He was doing that by being the best shot suppression defender on the team, and still putting up decent enough CF60. He was also playing most of his time with Roman Polak, although he did a stint with Morgan Rielly late in the year after Polak was traded, and while Rielly improved defensively a little, Marincin was terrible, totally unable to sustain good defensive results.
Marincin made every defender he played with on the Leafs better in shot suppression, but none of them had very different results in shots for. His results with forwards were more interesting.
With the fourth line of Byron Froese, Peter Holland, Brad Boyes, etc., the shots against were so low, the goalies could have taken a nap. But there was no offence to speak of.
However, with P.-A. Parenteau, Shawn Matthias and Arcobello, he was excellent offensively. With the top lines, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak and their usual wingers, they did well, affecting each other in positive ways.
I think Martin Marincin is a passenger.
We say that like an insult, but I'm not sure it is. A good passenger doesn't actually drive you anywhere, but they don't disrupt the driver, and may offer some help occasionally, working the GPS or saying, "Um, that was the turn-off, I think." They are more remarkable for their lack of negatives than for their positives, and their worth is so much harder to see.
Marincin seems to do best with players like Eberle and Parenteau, solid high positive Corsi forwards who are not speed merchants but who play an excellent positional game. Marincin's strengths, heading up ice and dishing the puck off at a smart time, play well with those sorts of forwards. He also does not drag down more elite level players like Kadri or James van Riemsdyk.
He is not a creator of offence, just of offensive zone time. He cannot make a silk purse out of the sow's ear of an offensively poor forward line. He can do the impossible, though, and make Roman Polak better. He also shot the puck a lot more in Toronto, proving he can at least reach ordinary depth player level there.
One huge caveat on his Toronto results: Mike Babcock deployed him well away from situations where goals were needed most. His usage is the extreme mirror image to Matt Hunwick's. Marincin played mostly with the minute eaters on the fourth line in situations where the game was out of reach or with offensive lines when the Leafs were winning.
We can have the chicken and egg argument about that. Was his usage dictating his lack of personal offence, or did his lack of offensive spark drive his usage? The answer may depend on how well you rate Babcock's player evaluation skills.
Still an Enigma?
For me, he is quite a bit. I ranked him just ahead of Nikita Zaitsev, more for the unknowns around Zaitsev than any real sense of certainty about Marincin. But I'm not going to be surprised if Zaitsev soars a little higher. I'm not going to be shocked if one day Connor Carrick is better too. But as the quality of his teammates rises, Martin Marincin may just ride along with them to better results than we expect.