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Jonathan Marchessault gets chance with Panthers

Forward signed as free agent will start season on top line after injury to Jonathan Huberdeau

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- When forward Jonathan Marchessault left the Tampa Bay Lightning during the summer to sign with the Florida Panthers, he was looking for an opportunity to become a full-time NHL player.

He got his wish, and then some.

Marchessault will begin his first season in Florida as a member of the top line with budding star Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr. Marchessault was picked by Coach Gerard Gallant to replace left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, who will be sidelined 3-4 months with an ankle injury.

"They're obviously really good players," Marchessault said. "We saw what they did in the past and it's going to be fun to be able to play with two guys like that.

"They're guys who play really close to each other, they support each other so well on the ice, so it's going to be about complementing them. On top of that, they're guys who can make really good plays, so there shouldn't be any problems."

Video: NJD@FLA: Marchessault utilizes screen to bury PPG

Marchessault signed a two-year contract with the Panthers on July 1 after spending three seasons in the Lightning organization. He had seven goals and 11 assists in 45 regular-season games last season but was scratched for 12 of 17 playoff games during the Lightning's run to the Eastern Conference Final.

"I thought with Tampa I was playing well enough to be a regular in the lineup, but sometimes we were going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen," Marchessault said. "They have had the same forwards for the past three years, so it's tough to break through that. That's all it was, I wanted a chance to become a regular in the NHL and I thought this offered the best chance."

The Panthers signed Marchessault's to address concerns about production from the bottom two lines.

Marchessault appeared earmarked to play right wing on the third line alongside Swiss rookie Denis Malgin and Jared McCann until Huberdeau was injured by an errant skate in the first period of a 4-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils at West Point, N.Y., on Saturday.

Gallant put Marchessault with Barkov and Jagr after Huberdeau left the game. He responded with a goal and an assist, which came on a beautiful pass across the crease that defenseman Aaron Ekblad redirected into the net.

"We all knew what the plan was, but he's a good hockey player," Gallant said. "Now he gets a chance to play with those guys and he gets a chance to put up some big numbers hopefully. He slides in there and hopefully it'll be a real good line for us.

"He's a great passer. You saw that the other night in the game in West Point; he made some great passes. He's a talented guy that can play on the top two lines."

Marchessault, 25, provided a glimpse of his offensive potential in 2014-15 when he had 24 goals and 67 points in 68 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League.

Starting Thursday against the New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, MSG+), Marchessault will get the opportunity he's been longing for, but it does come with some pressure.

"I've reached this point for a reason," Marchessault said. "I'm not going to change my style of play. I have to be able to make good plays offensively, but there are so many good players in the NHL that you have to responsible defensively. I also want to have good chemistry with those guys and talking makes things easier. I think it's going to go well."

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