That Jonathan Marchessault was left exposed by the Florida Panthers ahead of the expansion draft remains one of the biggest surprises of Sunday’s unveiling of the protection lists. That’s particularly true when considering the campaign Marchessault had.
Signed to a two-year, $1.5-million deal by the Panthers in July 2016, Marchessault was thought to be coming into Florida to play a bottom-six role and offer some scoring, a role befitting a player who had never averaged more than 12 minutes per game and had amassed eight goals and 19 points over 49 career games. But Marchessault became one of the most surprising signings — and most cost-effective players — in the entire league in 2016-17. He was a revelation.
Within 24 games of the puck dropping on the season, Marchessault had bested his previous career highs, was taking top line minutes, getting reps on the top power play unit and suiting up alongside the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov. Marchessault was scoring at a rate no one could have expected, posting 11 goals by the time the calendar flipped to 2017 and finishing the campaign with 30 tallies and 51 points. It was a breakout season for the 26-year-old, coming during a year when little was expected of him, and more than a few in Florida were primed to see what Marchessault could do for an encore.
They may not get the chance, however.
Marchessault’s expansion exposure has been met, for obvious reasons, with apparent interest by the Golden Knights. So much so, in fact, that reports have begun to surface that it will be Marchessault who is heading Vegas’ way Wednesday, ahead of other exposed Panthers such as Jason Demers, Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith. The interest is understandable, especially after Marchessault had his career year, but the reality is that if the Golden Knights want to get the most value out of the winger, their best bet may be to take him in the draft only to flip him at some point this summer.
The thing about Marchessault is that he’s exactly the type of player on exactly the type of contract that every single team facing a salary cap conundrum would love to get their hands on. He’s a skilled puck handler, proficient at working on the power play and proved he can make an impact in a top-six this past season, even if it’s only for a team in a pinch. And that’s what gives him so much value if Vegas selects him for the purposes of trading him to a team looking for additional scoring punch on a budget.
Make no mistake, Marchessault’s value is at its peak right now. He’s coming off of the aforementioned 30-goal season, he had the second-best cost-per-point value of any unrestricted free agent signing and he’s the kind of player a team such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues or Boston Bruins — clubs with little in the way of spending money but needs for depth scoring — want to have as part of their squad. Because of that, Marchessault carries with him the potential to net a prospect or a pick or maybe even both in a trade. If the Golden Knights hang on to him to flip him at, say, the trade deadline, that might not still be the case.
Marchessault undeniably possesses skill with the puck and a tricky shot that helped him wire his way to 30 markers. He has the talent to fill in as he did with the Panthers and he’s right in the prime of his career. All of those are great things. The worry, though, should be that Marchessault will lose significant value as an asset if he comes into the campaign and falls flat in Vegas. There’s reason for concern about that happening, too, namely the fact he absolutely shot the lights out this past season.
Consider that there were 96 players this past season who scored at least 20 goals and 172 who fired at least 150 pucks on net. Of those two groupings, Marchessault finished 21st and 12th, respectively, with a shooting percentage of 15.5 percent. In terms of the 20-goal scorers, his shooting percentage put him alongside the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Marian Hossa, Tomas Tatar and Chris Kreider. When it comes to success rate of those who took a similar volume of shots, Marchessault was in the same company as that same group while finishing ahead of the Auston Matthews, Artemi Panarins and Logan Coutures of the league. It’s hard to fathom two-straight seasons of Marchessault among that class of shooter, no matter how skilled he may be.
And a down year from Marchessault almost certainly squashes his value come the deadline, the next most likely time for him to be moved along, which would make Vegas’ return on an intriguing pickup that much less. None of this is to mention that the Golden Knights could lose him completely when he hits the open market at the end of the coming campaign.
So, while Vegas should take Marchessault after his breakout year, it’d be best they do so with the intent to flip him to the highest bidder.
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