Jonathan Marchessault Finally Got the Contract He Has Long Deserved

After years of excelling at lower levels, Marchessault got his NHL shot and took advantage of it. As a result, he landed a big six-year deal with Vegas.

When you think of NHL players deserving of a new contract and a healthy pay raise, the Vegas Golden Knights’ Jonathan Marchessault probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind. But after being essentially given away in the expansion draft, the 27-year-old center finally proved his worth to a franchise and, in the process, called into question the thought processes of traditional ‘hockey men.’

Marchessault’s career began with the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Despite being drafted in the 12th round as a 16-year old, the Cap-Rouge native had made a name for himself before aging out of juniors. He was named an alternate captain, had won the Gaetan Duchesne Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward during the 2009-10 season; during the 2010-11 season, he scored 95 points in 65 games, was named the Remparts’ player of the year, and a QMJHL First Team All-Star.

The NHL Draft came and went, however, without Marchessault hearing anyone call his name. He had already received the dreaded hockey label of being “too small.” He signed with the Connecticut Whale, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, and scored 64 points in a 76-game season without getting a look at the NHL level.

The next season was a similar story, albeit in the Columbus Blue Jackets' organization. Marchessault posted 67 points in 74 AHL games, but he only appeared in two contests with the big club. In 2013-14, he scored 56 combined AHL points between Springfield and Syracuse (the Tampa Bay Lightning’s affiliates). His next season featured another 67 AHL points and two more games at the NHL level, but in 2015-16, Marchessault finally got his NHL shot. He tallied 18 points in 45 games and was allowed to walk as a free agent.

He signed with the Florida Panthers and produced like he always had at lower levels, finishing his first full NHL season with 51 points. Despite that production, Marchessault was then left unprotected in a baffling pair of expansion draft moves by Florida. The change of scenery to Vegas hasn’t slowed him down, though; he’s scored 40 points through 38 games with the Golden Knights and earned himself a six-year, $30 million extension.

While Marchessault’s story definitely has a feel-good element, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise given his history of production. Beyond the pure counting numbers he’s produced at every level, he’s always posted strong possession numbers, too. During his half season in Tampa, the center boasted a 53.87% five-on-five Corsi For percentage, according to Corsica. In Florida, that dropped to a still respectable 51.67% before climbing back to a 55.16% clip this season in the desert.

And while most of his numbers have increased this season -- after just 38 games, his individual five-on-five Expected Goals of 10.1 is already higher than his previous career-best clip -- there doesn’t appear to be anything incredibly unsustainable going on. His even-strength shooting percentage is a reasonable 8.16% (down from an insane 15.75 last year), and time on ice and zone starts are generally where they have always been.

As nice as it is to see a journeyman get rewarded with some long-term stability, the Marchessault story also highlights the dangers of remaining locked into traditional hockey thought. For the past seven years, virtually any team that wanted to sign the center could have had him for under a million dollars; if a general manager had the gumption to lock Marchessault up long term, he would have likely jumped at the chance for stability, even on a team-friendly contract. But, despite the basic and advanced stats that were there for anyone to see, Marchessault never looked the part -- just a 5’9” kid from Quebec who was always good in the minors but too small for the NHL.

As we watch Marchessault put up solid point totals for the next five seasons, keep that lesson in mind. That 50-goal scorer your team is craving could be right in front of you -- you just need the conviction to know what you’re seeing.