This is the second installment of a two-part piece about Jonathan Marchessault's journey to Vegas. Click here to read Part One.
Five years after his professional hockey career began, Jonathan Marchessault finally became a full-time NHL player. It's easy to credit his work ethic, natural talent and determination for his success. While Marchessault knows he wouldn't be the player he is today without those attributes, working as hard as he could each and every day to become an NHL hockey player was about more than just Jonathan Marchessault. Just like his career, his life changed a lot in those five years as he became a husband and a father.
His dream of playing in the NHL evolved as time passed and he matured as a person. As the 2015-16 season carried on, Marchessault appeared in 45 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning during the regular season and he collected 18 points on seven goals and 11 assists.
But what those numbers don't reflect are the sacrifices he made to be there.
"It was always hard because the year I stayed up the whole season with Tampa, I had a newborn baby," said Marchessault. "My daughter was born in October and I had another kid under two-years-old. I had two children under two-years-old living at the hotel for four months. It was craziness. It wasn't an ideal situation, but when you're a call-up, you make the most of every situation and every opportunity."
Marchessault cited a coach he had in junior hockey who was especially hard on him as a source of his mental toughness. He said a lifetime of facing challenges head-on prepared him to overcome adversity as a player on the ice and as a man off the ice. Situations at the rink and at home were treated with the same positive attitude.
"It's just like on the ice: there's no quitting in my game."
At the end of that season, Marchessault was an unrestricted free agent. Despite his fondness for the Lightning organization, he changed zip codes in the state of Florida when he signed a two-year contract with the Florida Panthers. The contract allowed the two goals in his life at that point to intersect: play in the NHL and provide for his family.
"When you're young, you want to make it to the NHL," said Marchessault. "But honestly, when I started having kids, I just wanted to give them a good lifestyle. That was my main goal. When I was in Florida that year, I was able to give my family more stability."
The forward had largely flown under the radar on the NHL landscape during his time with Columbus and Tampa Bay but that all changed during the course of the 2016-17 season. Marchessault led the Panthers in goals with 30 and finished third on the team in overall scoring with 51 points in 75 games.
The day of the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft that would see the league's 31st franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, select their inaugural roster, Marchessault received another phone call.
"I remember the morning of the expansion draft, my agent called me and said 'Hey, Florida is not going to protect you.' I was kind of surprised. He said: 'I'm 90 percent sure Vegas is picking you.' After that, George McPhee called me and told me that he was going to pick me. He said I should be excited and happy to be able to have the opportunity right when I got here. And I really was."
The opportunity to thrive in a new hockey environment was only part of what occupied Marchessault's mind as he prepared to move his family to their third city in three years.
"At first, we knew it was a nice city," Marchessault said. "It was way nicer than we had thought, especially when we first visited it. It was all about getting that stability for my family."
As the Golden Knights marched through the first three months of their inaugural season, Marchessault found a groove that put him on track for his best statistical season in the NHL. He had 37 points (15G, 22A) in 35 games before a significant stroke of the pen became a defining moment in his career.
On Jan. 3, 2018, Marchessault signed a six-year, $30 million extension with Vegas worth an average-annual value of $5 million. The longest, most lucrative contract of his career was the product of years of work and sacrifice. Hindsight gives Marchessault the ability to look back on everything that led him to even being offered that deal and he wants to reward the Golden Knights for investing in him.
"It keeps me honest," he said. "Now that I've been able to give my family that stability and we don't have to move, my only goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That's the only thing I focus on. I want to do it here. Nowhere else could have given me this opportunity and we all believe in this locker room that we can do it here."
Four years and 124 NHL games after that first call up, Marchessault and Brad Larsen spoke on the phone again. Larsen called Marchessault at the end of the 2016-17 season after Marchessault became a 30-goal scorer for the Panthers.
"I called him later on when he was in Florida and he was a difference maker every time he was on the ice," Larsen said. "For me, as a coach, I wanted to learn."
The former colleagues from a lifetime ago in Springfield caught up. Larsen moved up in the Columbus organization to become an assistant coach for the Blue Jackets while Marchessault had just proved his ability to be an elite scorer in the top hockey league on the planet.
"He told me he started investing in his body and investing in his nutrition and look what happened," Larsen said. "He took it upon himself to make those changes and now he's a bona fide NHL all-star. It's great to see. He's always been a great kid with a great personality. We just were always wanting more and now he's giving it all he's got and it's great to see."
With the peace of mind that his current situation allows him, Marchessault is able to contextualize each step of his journey and look back on how a kid from outside of Quebec City became a Vegas Golden Knight.
"It took a lot of sacrifices," Marchessault said. "I started becoming a better player when I started working harder. I never cut corners. I started eating well. You have to be willing to do that because there are guys who are just natural but it rarely happens that way. That's a fantasy life. If you're not willing to give it all, move around and work your hardest, you're never going to reach anything. You have to do what it takes to have an edge on other guys. You play to your strengths. For me, maybe I made it later. When I was in the AHL, they'd preach to play well defensively. I was never trying to play bad defensively, I was always just trying to play to my strengths. My strength was my shot and my ability to be a good offensive player. I made it to Tampa because I was doing that, not because I changed the way I played. Maybe I was a little stubborn back then, but that's what got me here."