John Marino is probably one of the more important members of the 2020-21 Pittsburgh Penguins.

Based on the way he played a year ago as a rookie, when he came out of nowhere to become one of the team’s most reliable and impactful defenders, he should be considered one of the best young players in the organization. The Penguins do not really have a lot of young impact players to build around long-term, but you would hope that Marino would be one of them.

He is also one of the many defenders on the roster signed to a long-term contract that carries a sizable salary cap hit for the next several years. For that reason alone the Penguins need him to play well to justify the investment. It was a bold move by former general manager Jim Rutherford to sign him to such a significant contract after just one season, but if he builds on that rookie season and becomes a top-pairing defender (or even a consistent top-four defender) that contract could be a bargain for the team. But he has to actually become that player for that to become a reality.

So far this season, he does not seem to be improving from his rookie season. Some might even say he is playing through the common sophomore slump that carries a significant regression. The eye test has not always been pretty, and some of the numbers (especially offensively) paint an ugly picture. His offensive numbers have significantly regressed, going from a nine-goal, 40-point pace over 82 games to a three-goal, 12-point pace over 82 games. As of Monday he only has four points (one goal, three assists) this season in 27 games this season. That is not great.

Having said that, is his performance this season as bad as it might seem? There is an argument to be made that no, it is not.