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Stanley Cup Final

Marchessault improves game for Golden Knights on way to Cup Final

Undrafted forward, Conn Smythe Trophy candidate 'made believers out of everybody'

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Jonathan Marchessault gets from point A to point B in style these days.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

When the Vegas Golden Knights forward heads to T-Mobile Arena for a Stanley Cup Playoff game, he often does so in a Lamborghini Aventador with a Golden Knights decal on the hood.

He likely will take the car, loaned from a dealership in Henderson, Nevada, to the first game of the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals here Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"They drive it to my driveway in the morning, I take it to the game, and the next morning, they come and get it," said Marchessault, who said driving it reminds him of being at the go-kart track as a kid. "It's pretty fun to dress in a suit and go in a nice car like that and go the game."

Arriving at this point in his NHL career, however, was nothing like a smooth ride in a supercharged sports car.

Marchessault's path was a slow, often frustrating journey; he went undrafted in the NHL and bounced around the American Hockey League before establishing himself as a top-flight player with Vegas this season in his fourth NHL stop.

The start to his pro career was a humble one. Marchessault said he drove to his first AHL training camp with Hartford in 2011 in a far more modest vehicle, a Hyundai Elantra sedan.

He played 306 AHL games with Hartford, Springfield and Syracuse, two NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012-13 and two more with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15 before getting a longer, legitimate shot with the Lightning in 2015-16 at age 24.

"I was never one of the top players on my team," Marchessault said. "When I became [a] pro, I stepped up, got an opportunity a little bit everywhere. I was taking advantage of it and here we are.

"That's the beauty of the sport. It just keeps surprising us."

Video: WPG@VGK, Gm3: Marchessault dekes for backhander

There is no bigger surprise that the continuing dream run by Marchessault and Vegas. The Golden Knights have reached the Cup Final in their inaugural season, and Marchessault is a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoff MVP.

"We're on a mission," Marchessault said. "Nobody is going to stand in front of us. I think we want to keep going."

Marchessault's 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) tied the NHL record for most points by a player in his team's first postseason, also achieved by Jude Drouin (New York Islanders, 1975) and Igor Larionov (San Jose Sharks, 1994).

Marchessault, 27, freely admits that when he was in his early 20s there were flaws in his game. The smallest Vegas forward (5-foot-9) always had good hands and a deft finishing touch around the net, but NHL forwards need more than that.

Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said the biggest change in Marchessault since he coached him last season with the Florida Panthers is that he plays a far more comprehensive 200-foot game.

"We talked about it early in the season," Gallant said. "I think [Marchessault] was a minus-30 (actually minus-21) player last year before we got him. We talked to all of our players about playing a complete two-way game. There's a reason that's the way [he] played all season long, that his plus-minus was real high, one of the highest in the League (plus-36, second in the NHL behind teammate William Karlsson's plus-49).

"He's done the job. He made believers out of everybody and that's his game. It's changed. It's very competitive. He wants to be out there."

Gallant's trust in Marchessault's improved defense was on display in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets. With the Golden Knights leading by one, Marchessault was on the ice for six shifts in the final 5:55 of a 3-2 win.

Marchessault's role model growing up was forward Martin St. Louis, who also was not drafted and took a circuitous route to the NHL. St. Louis (5-foot-9) played in an era when big was considered better. Like Marchessault, St. Louis had plenty of offensive skill when he came out of the University of Vermont, but he said he learned to play a two-way game when he broke into the NHL with the Calgary Flames in 1998-99 at age 23 under coach Brian Sutter.

"My whole life, I was an offensive guy," said St. Louis, who played 16 NHL seasons. "In Calgary, I learned to kill penalties as a third- and fourth-line guy. It was a big steppingstone for me."

Marchessault's NHL breakthrough season in 2015-16 came with Tampa Bay, where St. Louis' career blossomed too. Marchessault had 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 45 games, then signed a two-year contract with Florida on July 1, 2016. After he had 51 points (30 goals, 21 assists) for the Panthers in 2016-17, they left him unprotected in the NHL Expansion Draft, and the Golden Knights selected him.

In the midst of an NHL career-high 75-point season (27 goals, 48 assists), Marchessault signed a six-year, $30 million contract with the Golden Knights on Jan. 3.

"What struck us was that he was looking for respect," Vegas general manager George McPhee said. "He's no different from the rest of our team in wanting that second chance, having strong feelings about being exposed in the expansion draft.

"He was proving he was a good player and if we came to him with the right salary and right term, he wanted to finally have a place he could call his own, his home, and he would be here for a long time."

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm2: Marchessault beats Hellebuyck five-hole

St. Louis said Marchessault has convinced the hockey world that he is for real.

"And I think he knows that," St. Louis said. "Once you do that, your game goes to another level. I went through the same thing. Being an undrafted guy, you're trying to prove everybody wrong and finally getting everybody to believe I was for real.

"There were so many doubters, sometimes it almost makes you doubt yourself. You're still good, but to get from good to great is a whole other level -- and he's done that."

Marchessault said he never lost faith as he inched up the ladder, partly because of the example St. Louis set. St. Louis was left unprotected by the Flames in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft but not selected.

He then signed as a free agent with the Lightning that July. Four years later with Tampa Bay, he won the Art Ross Trophy with an NHL-high 94 points (38 goals, 56 assists), the Hart Trophy as MVP and the Stanley Cup.

"It's inspiring to any kids out there, undrafted, to show up and start playing in the NHL at 25, 26 years old and being so successful for so many years," Marchessault said of St. Louis. "As a little guy, also, he's pretty much my size and was able to be successful no matter what and he was the biggest inspiration for small guys like us."

Marchessault's mental toughness was sharpened by daily doses of verbal discipline from Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, his coach with Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 2007-11. Roy was unsparing in his criticism of Marchessault, to him directly and to the media.

Roy said last week that he was proud of Marchessault and his accomplishments, and that it was fun to see players his size have success.

"I wouldn't be here without him," Marchessault said. "He definitely showed me a lot of things. The main thing that he showed me was mental toughness of the game. There's nobody that I know that is stronger mentally than him. Not everybody responded well but I did.

"… Every day, I thought he was crazy. He's good crazy."

Marchessault said he knew he wouldn't be selected but went to the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal to support and "live the moment" with his best friend, Alex Chiasson, a forward who was picked in the second round (No. 38) by the Dallas Stars.

Now the Golden Knights will face Chiasson's Capitals in the Final, a remarkable turn of events for two players who have been close friends since they were 7, growing up in suburban Quebec City.

Chiasson has watched Marchessault's postseason exploits from afar with interest and a certain level of amusement, especially regarding the car.

"It's a little cheesy," Chiasson said. "Hey, he's playing great. They're playing really good at home and with that new contract I'm sure he can buy a new one. But it's kind of been a little story on the internet. It makes me laugh, for sure."

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm2: Marchessault finishes Smith's feed

Chiasson said Marchessault deserves everything that's happened to him in recent years because of how hard he's applied himself.

"He's got a big heart," Chiasson said. "That would be his biggest quality, a huge heart.

"He's as close as a best friend or a brother to me. What he's done the last couple of years and what he's doing right now is tremendous. I couldn't be happier for a guy."

Marchessault's game has always been predicated on speed, which meshes nicely both with his new (temporary) wheels and the way the Golden Knights like to push the pace. And though Gallant likes to run four lines in 5-on-5 situations, Vegas relies heavily on its No. 1 line of Marchessault, Karlsson and Reilly Smith for offense. They have combined for 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 15 playoff games, with Marchessault the leader in goals and points.

The Golden Knights can't explain why Marchessault has clicked with his linemates so well.

"It's hard to draw up," McPhee said. "You can try certain players with other players and sometimes something works and you never know why.

"When it does, you leave it alone."

Marchessault's career arc suggests he hasn't peaked. He said silencing doubters has fueled him all along, something that has continued with the Golden Knights' surprising run to the Final.

St. Louis said the next step for Marchessault is consistently having seasons like this one.

"He scored 30 goals one year," said St. Louis, who scored at least that many seven times in the NHL. "It doesn't make you a great player. It might be a one-year thing, a one-hit wonder. Are you going to keep raising your game? He's done that. He's a nice player. He's got everything. Besides size, he has everything.

"It's fun to watch. His path, his progression to where he is now on the national stage. I see that, I've experienced that. I'm really happy for him."

Marchessault said he hopes to meet St. Louis and tell him in person how inspiring he was.

"That's flattering to hear," St. Louis said. "And he's going to be somebody else's inspiration. For me, growing up, going through the process, I looked at smaller guys that weren't drafted that were doing it and thought, 'If they can do it, I can do it.' You get inspired by people in front of you.

"It's just the wheel that keeps turning. He's inspiring kids right now."

NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this report.

 

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