SUNRISE, Fla. - If you didn't know who Jonathan Marchessault was before the Florida Panthers dropped the puck on their 2016-17 season, it's safe to say that you do now.
When a preseason injury knocked Jonathan Huberdeau out of Florida's lineup for an extended period of time, Marchessault, who arrived to the Panthers with only 49 career NHL games to his name, flourished in his new top-line role. Playing alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, Marchessault got off to a hot start, recording 10 points in seven games on his way to a breakout 30-goal campaign.
The 26-year-old forward never looked back, finishing the season with 51 points and a team-leading 30 goals, while also seeing his average ice time per game leap from 12:05 in Tampa Bay last season to a career-high 16:54 during his first year in South Florida.
"I'm happy with what I did this year," said Marchessault, whose 30 goals were the most by any Panther since David Booth tallied 31 in 2008-09. "I know I'm not the kind of guy that takes a year off or something like that. I know that I'm going to come ready to play next year and do the same thing. I always want to beat what I did the year before. I think that's what makes you a better hockey player with a good attitude. I'll be ready."
It's an attitude like, coupled with a lot of untapped potential, which led the Panthers to sign Marchessault to a two-year, $1.5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent last summer. And although he admittedly had other offers on the table, the 5-foot-9, 174-pound forward decided that his best chance to succeed would be with the Panthers, who believed the undersized winger could play an integral role in their lineup.
From the moment his pen touched that paper, he knew his year could be special.
"I knew right when I signed," Marchessault said candidly. "It was my first one-way [contract]. I just wanted to be an NHL player. I knew that I needed to come in ready and be in really good shape, and that's what I was. I just got on the ice and got the chances to play more. I took advantage of it. I'm really happy."
Now that Marchessault is no longer one of the NHL's best-kept secrets, he will enter next season as one of the league's best bargains instead. The scoring winger's cost-per-goal for the 2016-17 campaign was just $25,000, placing him first among players not on entry-level contracts, according to CapFriendly.com.
For Marchessault, it's not all about dollars, cents, or even goals though.
It's about finding a home in South Florida. "I like Florida," Marchessault said after cleaning out his locker at the BB&T Center in April. "I like the boys. I like the organization. I like everything here… What makes me a hockey player, like everybody, is that everybody has a role on a team. My role is to make offense, produce offense and complete my other linemates."
With an extremely lethal wrist shot at his disposal, Marchessault wasted little time in establishing himself as an important fixture on Florida's power play, finishing the season tied for first on the team in power-play goals (8) and points (18).
"I knew when the puck was coming my way on the power play that was role was to shoot," said Marchessault, who ranked third on the Panthers with 53 shots on the power play. "It was my job to shoot and create chances. Everybody knew their role and that's why I think [our power play] was more successful towards the end of the year."
Marchessault scored a natural hat trick to help the Panthers blowout the first-place Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on March 27 at the BB&T Center.
Already up 2-0, Marchessault quickly increased Florida's lead to 5-0 after scoring three goals in succession - the franchise's first home hat trick since Tomas Kopecky in 2013.
Video: CHI@FLA: Marchessault finishes rush for natural hatty
GOAL OF THE YEAR
When you score 30 goals, at least a few of them are bound to be jaw droppers.
On this play, Marchessault somehow manages to get behind the entire Edmonton defense, takes a long pass form Keith Yandle, then flips a shot past goaltender Cam Talbot to make it a 3-3 game with 4.9 seconds remaining in the second period.
Video: EDM@FLA: Marchessault snaps in Yandle's feed for PPG