Jonathan Marchessault needs to prove he’s not a one-year wonder with the Golden Knights

The former Panther erupted for 30 goals last year, but was it really a sign of things to come?

Editor’s note: We’re continuing our expansion draft profiles, and we’re getting to the home stretch. If you’ve missed any of our profiles, make sure to click here.

Getting a 30-goal scorer is easier than hitting Megabucks.

Not that anyone should spend a dollar a spin on that anyway, but it took little effort for the Golden Knights to take Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft. It didn’t take a trade (hello, Reilly Smith) or teeth pulling from George McPhee. They just called his name.

That’s it. Vegas has its top goal scorer for 2018. The Florida Panthers still love Gerard Gallant, apparently.

Other than Marc-Andre Fleury, Marchessault was the Golden Knights’ expansion draft splash. He banked on himself last year, and it paid off, scoring 30 goals in 75 games. Somehow, even with Marchessault’s play, Florida found a way to plummet into the hockey abyss after a 103-point campaign two seasons ago. Alas, here we are, and the Golden Knights need to hope that 30-goal campaign wasn’t a mirage.

Scoring surge

Marchessault has been a long-standing goal expert. He scored 98 goals in four years in the QMJHL, and followed that with 59 scores in three years with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. He proved capable of doing such in the NHL, but mustered only 18 points in 45 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago. Marchessault took a chance on himself and signed a two-year, $1.5 million deal with Florida last summer.

He turned out to be the best bargain in the NHL.

The Quebec native played 30 more games last year than he did in 2016, nearly tripled his point count and led the Panthers in goals. Unfortunately for Florida, that didn’t translate into wins. Nevertheless, the Panthers seemed to have a core in place with Marchessault, Vincent Trocheck and Alexander Barkov.

But not even one down year for the Panthers was enough for them to consider that option. Marchessault was left unprotected, and the Panthers decided to focus on shoring up its 20th-ranked defense from a year ago.

Why did they do it? Marchessault could’ve been viewed as part of the problem.

Defensive liability?

Here’s where one can play devil’s advocate.

Marchessault has not been a good defensive forward since he came to the NHL. He has compiled a plus-minus of -31 the last two seasons, including -21 a year ago. This is coming from a Florida team that had the sixth best offense and defense just two seasons ago.

The Panthers went as far as Marchessault did. Florida went 13-4-2 when Marchessault had a positive plus-minus. This included games like a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks, and an overtime winner against his former team. When he was good, Florida was good. Hooray for math!

But, then there’s the bad. In games Marchessault posted a negative plus-minus, Florida went 5-21-4.

Yeah. Not good.

To pinpoint that entire blame on an offensive-minded player doesn’t make sense, but the numbers don’t bode well. He was a stalwart in the plus-minus game at the junior level. He even had a +33 one year with Quebec in the QMJHL, so it’s not like he’s incapable of such insanity. It didn’t help matters that Florida’s offense also dropped from sixth to 23rd with down years from Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen. Hell, even Marchessault himself said Florida’s defense was bad last year.

The simple answer for all of this? Make your own call.

Banking on Vegas

Whether this was a one-year facade or not, you can’t teach 30 goals. Marchessault comes into Vegas with the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Another big-time season will result in a payday next summer, and Vegas should be first in line to lock him up. There will be plenty of cap space, after all.

Marchessault will get the opportunity to make an impact for Vegas right away. He’ll be a top-six player from Day One, but he’s going to need to be dynamic from the get-go. This is a steal for the Golden Knights.

Hopefully the investment is a good return.