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Jonathan Marchessault marches on in pursuit of NHL roster spot

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

When the Tampa Bay Lightning reduced their training camp roster to 28 following Saturday’s Fan Fest at Amalie Arena, one player making the cut who fans may be unfamiliar with is Jonathan Marchessault.

After being acquired from Columbus before the trade deadline on March 5, 2014, Marchessault was shipped to the Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse, where he skated 21 games, scoring nine goals and assisting on six more for 15 points.

In training camp, the 5-foot-9, 180 pound Marchessault has made the most of his opportunity. Combining with Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov in the first two preseason games to form a high-powered line, Marchessault shined in the preseason opener against Nashville, tallying two goals and an assist to earn the top star from the game.

“I think I showed that I can play in the league with my speed and vision,” Marchessault said. “I play both sides of the ice, and I think I’ve been really good. Hopefully, I can keep going like this, and they can keep me on the team.”

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper remembered Marchessault as a standout with the Connecticut Whale – now the Hartford Wolf Pack -- of the AHL during the 2011-12 season when Cooper was coaching at Norfolk. The two teams met in the second round of the AHL playoffs with Cooper’s Admirals registering a 4-2 series victory.

“We had one hell of a battle with them…and (Marchessault) was a big reason,” Cooper said. “He was a feared hockey player, by us anyway because of his ability around the net.”

Following that season, Marchessault signed an entry level free agent contract with Columbus. He played two more years in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons, putting up 21 goals and 67 points in his first season and earning his first action in the NHL, skating in two games with the Blue Jackets for a grand total of 10:56 of ice time. Last season, Marchessault scored 14 goals and had 27 assists in in 56 games with Springfield before the trade to Tampa Bay.

For Marchessault, the change in scenery was a relief, a chance to exit an organization where he didn’t see much of a future.

“It was different (in Columbus), just the style of the game and how it was going, there was not much opportunity there,” he said. “It wasn’t going as planned, I’m sure for them also. But for me, for my career, I’m still a young player. I’m 23 now, so I’ve got good years in front of me. I didn’t want to wait another season to get an opportunity like I have this year.”

The Lightning need to trim five players from their training camp roster to meet the NHL maximum of 23 before the start of the season. Marchessault is hoping to stand out amongst a log jam of talented forwards over the final week of training camp and remaining three preseason games.

“I think I’ve been doing really good, but I think I need to keep going if I want to be able to play here one day,” Marchessault said. “I may be small but I’ll go in those dirty areas and I’ll battle against anybody on the other side. I’ve got a lot of positives but not even half of the work [in preseason] is done. I need to keep going and continue to be really good.”

LIGHTNING DEPART FOR ESTERO

Following Monday’s practice, the Bolts boarded a bus for Estero, Fla., where the team will train for the next three days. The Lightning will play their fourth preseason game Tuesday night against the Stars in Dallas. Wednesday, the team will open practice to the public at Germain Arena. After a pre-game skate at Germain Thursday, the Lightning travel across Alligator Alley to Sunrise for their final road preseason game against the Florida Panthers.

“Now when you get down to smaller numbers, it’s time to bring this group together,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to step away from some of the distractions, whether it’s the family, whatever. The family right now for this week is our team.”

Cooper stressed the importance of starting well during the first few weeks of the regular season and how the next couple of days in Estero will help the team focus on being ready.

“The start of the season’s unbelievably important. You can’t fall out of the race early,” Cooper said. “You’re not winning the Stanley Cup in the first two weeks, but you’re building to try and make the playoffs. That start’s really important…We want to make this a business trip and focus only on hockey without the distractions.”

WHO’S PLAYING?

Cooper said that Ben Bishop and Evgeni Nabokov will each get one more full preseason game in goal and split the third. As for Steven Stamkos, who stated earlier in camp he’d like to play at least three games and saw his first preseason action on Friday against Dallas, Cooper said the Bolts superstar should appear in two more games barring any setback.

" I’d personally like to get him in two because, like everybody else, he’s got to start getting his reps in and the pace is going to be considerably higher this week in the exhibition games than it was last week,” Cooper said.

28 REMAINING

Here’s a list of the players remaining in training camp. The Lightning need to get down to 23 before the start of the season.

Forwards – Brian Boyle, J.T. Brown, Ryan Callahan, Brett Connolly, Jonathan Drouin, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Marchessault, Brenden Morrow, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik and Cedric Paquette

Defensemen – Mark Barberio, Eric Brewer, Matt Carle, Jason Garrison, Radko Gudas, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Andrej Sustr and Luke Witkowski

Goalies – Ben Bishop, Evgeni Nabokov, Allen York


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