2017-18 Player Review: Jonathan Marchessault steps up as Golden Knights’ elite playmaker

After a breakthrough campaign with the Panthers, Marchessault made yet another stride in his first season with the Knights.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

Much of the talk following the Golden Knights’ expansion draft was centered around the additions of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward James Neal. And for good reason. Fleury and Neal were two of the biggest names left exposed by their respective former teams last summer, providing Vegas with immediate star power in its inaugural season. But of the Knights’ expansion draft selections, few made a larger impact than Jonathan Marchessault, who like many on the Vegas roster, put together the best campaign of his NHL career last season. And if his 2017-18 campaign is a sign of things to come, Marchessault figures to be a long-term cornerstone for the NHL’s newest franchise.

Season in review

After coming off a breakout 30-goal, 51-point campaign with the Florida Panthers in 2016-17, Marchessault faced a fair amount of pressure to replicate that production for the Golden Knights. Amazingly, Marchessault not only lived up to those expectations, but he surpassed them.

In 77 games, the speedy winger logged 27 goals and 75 points while playing on Vegas’ standout top line with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. While serving as a constant threat at even strength, Marchessault also made a living as one of Vegas’ top weapons on the power play, having registered 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) while on the man advantage. Marchessault didn’t slow down in the playoffs, either. In 20 postseason contests, the 27-year-old averaged over a point per game with a team-leading eight goals while also racking up 13 assists in the process, helping guide the Cinderella Golden Knights all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The point totals are impressive as is. However, a deeper look at Marchessault’s numbers suggests that not only was he one of Vegas’ best players last season, but he was also one of the best players in the entire NHL. Excluding all players with under 300 minutes of NHL ice time last season, Marchessault ranked second in the entire league with a ridiculous overall Goals For percentage of 70.75 while also posting an excellent 52.90 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5. To put it in simpler terms, the Golden Knights were far more likely to generate offense with Marchessault on the ice than when he was on the bench.

That said, Marchessault is far from a perfect hockey player. Despite being a terror in the offensive zone, it seems fair to assume he won’t be earning many Selke nominations in the foreseeable future. His defensive game remains a work in progress even after logging a plus-36 rating last season, which ranked second in the entire NHL (behind only William Karlsson). In spite of his defensive inconsistencies, though, one could make the “a strong defense is a strong offense” argument in regard to Marchessault. When he’s on the ice, opposing teams are typically scrambling in their own zone to keep the puck out of the net rather than the contrary.

Standout moment

Marchessault made plenty of eye-popping plays last season, but his early goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final immediately jumps out as one of his shining moments.

Not even a whole minute into the contest, Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb pickpocketed Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele as he attempted to move the puck into the Vegas zone. McNabb then blindly glided the rubber into the Jets’ end, where Marchessault simply outworked Winnipeg blueliner Jacob Trouba to the loose puck before beating Connor Hellebuyck with a nifty backhand to give Vegas the early 1-0 lead. This was the first of his two goals on the night (the other being an empty-netter), helping lift Vegas past Winnipeg to take the 2-1 series lead.

KOI composite grade: A

Marchessault was graded highly by every member of the KOI staff, earning at least an A grade from each participant. Marchessault’s highest grade was an A+, coming from myself.

Even while faced with the daunting task of living up to his impressive 2016-17 campaign, Marchessault immediately stepped in as one of the Golden Knights’ best players from Day 1. And had it not been for an early-season injury that kept him out of commission for five games, Marchessault likely would have led the Knights in points while also leading the pack in helpers.

As the season progressed, Marchessault’s impact became increasingly apparent, giving George McPhee and company no other choice but to lock up the electrifying playmaker to a six-year contract extension worth an average of $5 million per year. Marchessault is viewed quite highly by the Knights, and it’s not hard to see why after his performance last season.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Marchessault has solidified himself as one of the truly elite first-line wingers in the NHL. He played an enormous role on Vegas’ top line last season and will continue to do so throughout the 2018-19 campaign and beyond. One-upping his 2017-18 performance won’t be easy, but it seems like a virtual guarantee that Marchessault will once again rank amongst the Golden Knights’ top point-getters as he and the NHL’s youngest franchise begin Year 2.

How would you grade Marchessault’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below0

Statistics courtesy of Corsica.Hockey and Natural Stat Trick.