Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
It feels like forever since the infamous call on Cody Eakin that ended the Vegas Golden Knights’ season, and in less than three months the Golden Knights will hit the ice again. In fact, there are exactly Jonathan Marchessault days, or 81, until opening night.
Marchessault has been an integral piece of the Golden Knights’ success in their short two-year history. He is currently tied for the franchise lead in points (134) and is the all-time leader in assists (82). Here is a look at how he got here.
Path to the Show
Marchessault went undrafted and played four years in the QMJHL for his hometown team, the Quebec Remparts. He did not go undrafted because of a lack of skills; he tallied 70 goals and 166 points in his final two junior seasons.
It was his size that kept many NHL clubs away, as he is only 5-foot-9. After not being draft eligible anymore, he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012. He played for their AHL team for two seasons before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014.
After registering 67 points in two of his first three seasons, former Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman re-signed the Cap-Rouge native to a one-year extension. He suited up for 45 games for the Lightning that season (and another 11 in the AHL), but was only able to put up seven goals and 18 points in those NHL contests (he had six goals and nine points in the AHL that season).
That showing was not good enough for Yzerman and he let Marchessault walk that summer. Marchessault decided to stay in Florida and signed with the Panthers on a one-way contract.
Life as a Panther
When Marchessault was given a chance with the Panthers, he flourished. Head coach Gerard Gallant loved his style He played with tons of speed and even though he was one of the smallest players out there, he was not afraid to lay a check or two.
He was given an extra four minutes and 50 seconds of ice time per game compared to his time with the Lightning, which led to 30 goals and 51 points in a regular role. He was the team leader in goals that season and placed third in points.
Gallant was the one who noticed what Marchessault could bring to the team and that is why he gave him an opportunity. Unfortunately, Gallant was fired after 22 games that season, but they were quickly reunited.
“Marchessault’s one of those guys who’s given an opportunity and he’s making the most of it. He always wanted to be a top-line guy. He wanted to take advantage of it, and so far he’s done that,” says Panthers coach Gerard Gallant with a wink.
During the summer of 2017, the league held its expansion draft for the Golden Knights, where each team was able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie or eight positional players and one goalie.
The Panthers chose to protect eight and one, leaving Reilly Smith and Marchessault unprotected. GM Dale Tallon wanted to clear some salary at the draft and traded Smith to Vegas to entice them into selecting Marchessault. This was one of many deals the Golden Knights made to acquire multiple assets and build such a strong team so fast.
Playing in Sin City
The move to Vegas reunited Marchessault with Gallant. Everyone expected the team to be bottom dwellers for the first couple of seasons as all of their draft picks and younger players gained experience.
Well, they took the league by storm, breaking every expansion team record in not only the NHL, but all the major professional leagues. They won their division, had over 50 wins, and had a 12-3 record through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Golden Knights beat the Washington Capitals in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final, but could not finish the Cinderella story and lost four in a row. Their inaugural season was incredible, and they wanted to prove to everyone that it was no fluke.
Marchessault was at the forefront that season and not only on the ice. He finished with 27 goals and 48 assists; he also tacked on a team-leading eight goals and 21 points during the 2017-18 postseason. Off the ice, you could see him at local hospitals, police and fire stations giving back to all the first responders who helped during the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting. He also drives a team-branded grey Lamborghini to the rink to show off his Vegas spirit.
Call it a hangover from playing into June the previous season, or that teams weren’t taking them lightly, but Vegas did not have the same magical season in their sophomore campaign. They still managed 40 wins and added some big pieces to their lineup . Marchessault led the team in goals (25), assists, (34), and points to add to his legacy.
The 2018-19 season ended in controversy as Eakin was given a phantom five minute major for something he did not do. Marchessault had some very choice words after the game during the media scrum, showing how much he cares about the team and the town.
They will have a fire lit under them to start the 2019-20 season, beginning with a home-and-home series against the San Jose Sharks. Will the third time be a charm for this franchise and help propel Las Vegas into the ultimate sports town.
Countdown to Hockey
In just 81 more sleeps, the NHL season will be upon us. Vegas has had a busy offseason, moving out some contracts to create cap space. There will be a couple of youngsters in their lineup this fall, mixed in with their core players wanting to prove that their first two seasons in the league were real and that they are Stanley Cup contenders.