No joke about it: Marchessault making Conn Smythe case for Golden Knights

Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy speaks about forward Jonathan Marchessault and the fire inside him that has helped him establish a home in Vegas.

SUNRISE, FLA. – Asked if the net looks big to him these days, Jonathan Marchessault was appalled.

“It’s actually pretty small,” he said Wednesday, viewing the questioner as if he had just arrived on the redeye from Mars. “Bobrovsky is pretty big in there, no? They need to make those nets bigger.”

Perhaps. But the net has seemed cavernous for both Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and Marchessault, the Vegas Golden Knights shooter who has scored three times in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

Even at five-foot-nine, Marchessault is figuratively the larger of the two players at the moment. His pair of goals in Vegas’ 7-2 blowout win in Game 2 on Monday – both on world-class finishes – gave the 32-year-old 12 goals in his last 12 playoff games.

This production has brought the winger into Conn Smythe Trophy conjecture, although the MVP race is still too close to call if Vegas wins because the Knights’ ideology and deep lineup make it difficult (and unnecessary) for any one player to dominate.

But no one in the National Hockey League has been more offensively prolific the last month than Marchessault.

His 19 points the last dozen games are four more than the next nearest playoff scorer, linemate Jack Eichel, and Marchessault’s 12 goals in the Stanley Cup tournament are second only to the 13 Leon Draisaitl somehow amassed before the Edmonton Oilers were eliminated by Vegas in Round 2. Marchessault has been on fire since Game 3 of that series.

“It’s that time of the year you can’t think too much,” he said. “You just have to make the right play at the right time. If it’s my time to shoot, it’s my time. If it’s my time to pass, I’ll pass it.”

Marchessault wasn’t keen to dissect his playoff heater too closely. But it is impossible to overlook it — and him — as the Knights have a chance in Game 3 here Thursday to move within one victory of the Stanley Cup.

Marchessault has been so consistently good for so long now, it’s easy to forget how many years he scuffled before he and the Knights exploded upon the NHL in 2017-18, when the “Golden Misfits” went to the Cup Final in their inaugural season.

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“It’s enjoyable right now,” he said. “I think we’re playing good hockey. You know, maybe back then (in 2018), I was a little bit more arrogant, like more confident. Where I am right now, opportunities like that will not show up as much as they could have when you’re younger, right? I’m more aware of that this time; I’m 32 years old.”

Marchessault’s cockiness was his armour early in his career, which began in 2011 with an American League contract with the Connecticut Whale after the winger emerged undrafted from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Knights are his fourth NHL organization, and he spent most of his first five seasons in the minors. At age 24, Marchessault was still playing in the AHL on a minor-league salary of $70,000.

“Adversity, yeah,” he said when asked about the swagger that kept him going. “To make stability in the NHL, I needed a little bit more F-U in my game and, like, a little bit more character. I was good back then, but now it’s a different point of my career, and I’m only here to win some hockey games.”

Deliciously, it was the Panthers who presented Marchessault to the Knights in the 2017 expansion draft, despite the player’s breakthrough 30-goal season in his only year in South Florida. To prove their generosity and foolishness knew no bounds, the Panthers also sent Reilly Smith to Vegas in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

The Knights got an instant first line with Marchessault, Smith and William Karlsson, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ gift to Vegas expansion, and the trio represents half of the original misfits still playing for the Knights. It has been a while since they were paid like misfits; Marchessault has a season remaining on the six-year, $30-million contract he earned after his 75-point first season in Vegas.

If he is not the heart of the team, then at least Marchessault is its voice – his banter and patter among teammates as much a part of Vegas hockey as showgirls, and drummers in high-beam sunglasses.

“If you watched practice today, you could probably hear it,” teammate Alec Martinez said. “Marchy was mic’d up today, but it doesn’t take a mic in order for him to be heard.”

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Defenceman Shea Theodore, another of the original Knights, said: “When it gets quiet, you can kind of feel like the guys are looking around, you know, wondering where he is. Always when he’s around, you can just feel the tension ease. He relaxes our room, and I think that’s a huge positive for our group.

“It seems like wherever he is, whether it’s a dinner out at a restaurant or just in the lounge at the hotels or in the locker room, he’s always making jokes and getting guys laughing.”

Marchessault’s practice audio was collected Wednesday by the NHL for its “Quest for the Cup” series. And all this could make Marchessault a bit of a sideshow, except his play is as loud as his voice. Like many players who build NHL careers after struggling for a foundation, Marchessault never lost that desperate competitiveness that kept him going through those early years.

“There’s a little bit of that history, right?” Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s had to battle. He went through different teams in the American League and different teams in the NHL and, you know, good for him. It’s a good mentality, it works for him. He’s never to the point where he feels like he can rest or be comfortable.

“Even internally in practice every day … if he’s in a white sweater and the other guy is in a grey, then he wants to outperform him. That’s just who Marchy is. He is a competitive guy with everything he does.”

After just six seasons in the league, the Knights are almost there. Marchessault’s journey has been longer.

“It was an extremely bumpy ride to get to the NHL,” he said. “It’s one thing to get there, but after, it’s another thing to stay there. Like every year, there’s guys that want your spot, right? So, it just keeps you humble. I’m never going to be necessarily satisfied until I win it all, to be honest. When you win it all, that’s one of those things that you cannot … like, your name will always be a winner.”

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