Friday October 28th, 2016

TORONTO - Scoring is as high as it’s been in over ten years to start the NHL and the expected suspects are leading the pack: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Lightning forward Steven Stamkos find themselves near the top of the scoring table, paying dividends on the investments that NHL poolies wisely placed on them.

The name that sticks out is perhaps the hardest to pronounce: Jonathan Marchessault, the 25-year-old Florida Panthers forward who has racked up 10 points in seven games to start the season, including the team’sonly two goals in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was his first multi-goal game in his NHL career, giving him five on the season.

If you haven’t heard of Marchessault (mahr-SHUH-sohn​), you could be forgiven, for now at least. The undersized winger, who has also spent time with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning, now has 29 points in 56 career NHL games. And here’s the kicker: after signing a two-year, $1.5 million deal with the Panthers in the summer, he’s is providing more than fair value for his team.

“He’s getting the opportunities and taking advantage of them,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said after the loss.

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The opportunities have not always come easy for the product of Cap-Rouge, Quebec. He scored 95 points through 68 games of his final junior season, leading the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts in scoring. If there were hints that he could become a scorer at the pro level, he still had to work relentlessly to prove that he could follow through.

After two games with the Blue Jackets in 2012-13, Marchessault spent all of the next season in the AHL, splitting time between the Springfield Falcons and the Syracuse Crunch. He was called up to Tampa Bay for just two games in 2014-15 but even then, managed to register two points.

Playing 45 games with the Lightning last season seemed to solidify his place as a bona fide NHL forward. But the seven goals and 18 points he produced in those games couldn’t have foreshadowed the torrid pace he’s scoring at now.

“In life you make your chances,” he said. “If you work hard, good things can happen to you. It’s a process.”

Though he is 25, at 5’9” and 174 pounds he still very much falls in line with the new NHL, in which speed and skill trump size. Marchessault was named third star of the night in Toronto and didn’t have to look far to see another small forward, Leafs rookie Mitch Marner, taking the first star of the evening.

Marchessault is benefiting from playing alongside Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov. Utilizing the entire ice and creating space has been the key to creating offense.

“Obviously we are finding each other,” he said.

Any forward that gets to line up beside the immortal Jagr, still one of the craftier playmakers in the game, is likely to find the score sheet now and again. Nevertheless, even while playing beside one of the greatest to ever play the game, Marchessault ranks Barkov quite highly, admitting recently that Barkov is “…probably the best guy” he’s ever played with.

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Lofty praise indeed. All that space they are able to create and all the offense they’re able to generate as well only leaves Marchessault hungry for me.

“We should have had more, I think,” he said after Thursday’s tilt. “But so far, as we go, we are doing a better job at finding each other. It’s going to go better.”

The Panthers early schedule has seen Marchessault log points against some of the better teams in the Eastern Conference including the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and a three-point game against a surprisingly strong Detroit Red Wings outfit. In that regard, there’s very little reason to think Marchessault will slow down anytime soon.

Nevertheless, the loss against the Maple Leafs leaves the Panthers at 3-3-1, unable to capitalize on his strong two-goal showing.

Top-10 NHL scorer or not, Marchessault isn’t losing focus of what matters most.

“It don’t mean nothing,” he said, “if you don’t win at the end.”

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