Knights’ Marchessault finding stability after rocky start to NHL career

Irfaan Gaffar and Ian Macintyre breakdown the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 2.

LAS VEGAS – James Marchessault is four years old and since he was born his dad has worked in five cities and two hockey leagues.

No wonder Vegas Golden Knights‘ Jonathan Marchessault viewed the six-year contract extension he signed in January not so much as his validation as a player, but as a victory for his young family.

“It’s huge – not only for me but also my wife and my kids,” Marchessault, 27, told Sportsnet this week. “Just be able to have a home that I’m going to stay for a few years and have some stability in your life. It’s been definitely a roller-coaster career. It’s definitely for them that I’ve been working hard for that.”

Marchessault, 27, and his wife, Alexandra, have three children. James has a two-year-old sister, Victoria, and a baby brother, William, born a month ago during the Golden Knights’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff victory against the Los Angeles Kings.

The contract is also huge: $30-million-US over the next six years, a 667 per cent annual increase over the $750,000 Marchessault is making this year and more money than the forward could have imagined when he was scuffling in the American Hockey League and considering moving to Europe.

“The journey was definitely long,” Marchessault said. “The part about being in the NHL and not playing is hard. But it’s not as hard as being in the AHL and not getting called up. It’s hard mentally and definitely physically also.

“Before I got my first chance in the NHL (with Tampa, two years ago), I was giving myself one more year and then I was going to Europe.”

If Marchessault goes to Europe anytime soon, it will be on vacation. Possibly to decompress after winning the Stanley Cup this spring.

The five-foot-nine dynamo from Cap-Rouge, Que., scored twice Monday and was the game’s best player as the Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 to even the NHL’s Western Conference Final at 1-1.

Game 3 is here Wednesday.

Marchessault leads the breathtakingly improbable Knights, the expansion team that is three wins from playing for the Stanley Cup in its first season, with six goals and 15 points in 12 playoff games. This represents merely an extension of the regular season that saw Marchessault produce 27 goals and 75 points in 77 games.

Since October, he has marvellously complemented William Karlsson and Reilly Smith on the Knights’ top line. The trio has combined for 12 goals and 41 points in 12 playoff games.

“I guess we think hockey the same,” Karlsson said. “We want to play with the puck (and) try not to throw it away. We take chances. Sometimes we make mistakes. We’re all really confident and pretty good players. Sometimes you just find that kind of chemistry with people.”

Karlsson and Smith have similar personalities. They are quiet, focussed. Marchessault, on the other hand, never shuts up on the ice.

“He’s always talking,” Smith confirmed. “A lot of it is in French, though, so I only understand half of it.”

Last season, before the Florida Panthers shockingly exposed Marchessault in the expansion draft so they could protect depth defencemen Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic, he scored 30 times in 75 games in his first full NHL campaign.

He has been so good this year and last that it’s difficult to understand how much Marchessault struggled for his NHL opportunity.

Undrafted in the NHL and starting his professional career in 2011 on a free-agent contract with Connecticut of the AHL. Parlaying that 64-point season into a two-way contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, whom Marchessault feels betrayed him.

The 2014 trade to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which kept him mostly in the minors but finally allowed Marchessault to showcase himself with 45 NHL games in the 2015-16 season. Then a one-way, free-agent deal with Florida and his big breakthrough last season.

“I thought I would have maybe a little break finally,” Marchessault says of the unrest and uncertainty in his career. “Maybe start of this year, I will start on the top two lines (in Florida). Something.

“The most hurtful moment would be when I signed in Columbus and they told me I would make the team or be their first callup (from the AHL). You do everything right down there and you keep producing and do your job, and they still don’t call you up first. Or second or third. That was one of the most frustrating things in my career.”

Marchessault’s game log after seven years as a professional reads: 306 AHL games, 201 NHL games.

That imbalance shows how hard he worked to be on the NHL’s biggest stage now.

No wonder Marchessault walks softly and carries a big chip on his shoulder.

“I have been always a guy who is confident in my abilities,” he said. “I know that if I put the work and effort in, I will get results. And when I get results, I’m not satisfied, I want more. That’s how I think.

“I’ll never forget those times I put in, hard working in the AHL. Not playing, not getting a shot, I’ll never forget that. Days that I wake up and I come to the rink and I’m not really feeling like practice, I tell myself: ‘Well, it’s not too bad.’”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.