Jonathan Marchessault Is Vegas’s Heart And Sault
1:37 PM EDT on May 15, 2023
What's the difference between a team and a franchise? History. A team can exist for just a fleeting moment—any collection of players participating in any number of games are a team. But a franchise requires multiple points on the timeline and coherent narratives. They have beginnings and middles and—even if you can't see it while in the middle of it—ends. They have past heroes, memories of heartbreak and glory, and an established body of work that continually intersects with the lives of its fans.
The expansion 2017–18 Vegas Golden Knights were a team. They were a logo and a name, staffed by players brought in because their previous employers didn't want them badly enough. They were shockingly impressive right out of the gate, coming within three games of winning a Cup. They were knocked out of the first round the next year after a bizarre Game 7 loss to the Sharks. They fired their first coach in 2020 and weathered both bubble hockey and some hysterical goalie drama until the conference final. They fell short in the same spot the year after that, then disastrously underachieved in 2021–22. By now, after recovering to post the best record in the West, and earning a 5-2 win that dispatched the Edmonton Oilers in six games for another trip to a conference final, they're a franchise, with a journey that hockey historians can map.
The man whose goals run through this history is Jonathan Marchessault. If you've ever been a fan of Vegas, you're a fan of his.
Marchessault came to Nevada as part of an absolute burglary perpetrated on the Panthers in the expansion draft, as they not only lost him but also sent along Reilly Smith to ensure the Knights selected the guy they didn't want. Early in his career, nobody thought much of the 5-foot-9 forward. He went undrafted, hung around the minors, played a few games with Columbus and Tampa, then signed with Florida and enjoyed a breakout season at age 26 that the Panthers believed was a fluke. In Vegas he proved it wasn't, and as a playmaker who held a deep personal fellowship with the puck, he continued to be a consistent 20-plus goalscorer. More importantly, he endeared himself to these fledgling fans by becoming the Knights' top scorer in their inaugural playoff run. This one in particular is the moment that made him Mr. Vegas to me. In the Knights' first home game of the conference final, after a ridiculous pregame extravaganza, Marchessault exploded the crowd just 30 seconds in after outskating everyone to a loose puck.
Marchessault got no adoration from the crowd in Edmonton on Sunday, but his impact was even greater. With his team losing 2-1, facing the possibility of an anything-can-happen seventh game, the 32-year-old veteran took over the second period with a natural hat trick. First he finished a rebound that was part luck and part hustle, reflexes, and positioning. That tied the game. Then he followed up on a weird bounce from a booming slap shot that confounded Stuart Skinner in the crease. And for the finale, he took advantage of a tightly packed Oiler defense at 4-on-4 to skate to the left dot and fire a shot through to the back of the net.
As one of many solid producers on a well-balanced winner, Marchessault wasn't sorely missed as he mostly struggled to record points through Vegas's first five playoff wins. Playing his first playoff games in two years, his coach Bruce Cassidy noted, Marchessault maybe required some time to readjust to the increased traffic and physicality that defines these games. But you knew he would need to play a part if Vegas was going to keep moving on. And now that he's primed and willing to get up in a goalie's face, the shots are starting to fall.
“I think Marchy, about halfway through the playoffs, realized that it’s not just going to be on a tee for him, so to speak,” Cassidy said. “[You won’t always get] those types of goals on odd-man rushes. You have to get inside, so he does it.”
After a pair of goals in Game 3, a passer's hat trick in Game 5, and then this hatty to clinch, morale in Vegas couldn't be higher. Sure, it wouldn't have made a tangible difference if those second-period goals were scored by Jack Eichel, or Mark Stone, or Chandler Stephenson. But because of the way Marchessault connects franchise past to present, it just feels a little more right when Marchessault is the Golden Knights' hero.
You're allowed to root for a hockey team qua team. You pick up a favorite in the playoffs when your own's been sent home, or you check in with the local guys after some time away. It's fine! But the most rewarding kind of fandom comes from putting in the work over the years. When you go to or turn on a game, you're not just there for what happens in those 60 minutes. You're interacting with all your memories of the wins and losses you've seen before. A Marchessault goal reminds you of every other occasion he's brought you joy. It only gets better each time he does it.
Vegas's first year was cool. But there's been something special about watching the Knights evolve, not always linearly, from an interesting new experiment into a gift that keeps giving, making bold new acquisitions while still relying on core pieces. The relationship they have with their fans is no longer an open-minded fling but a committed marriage, one in which the bonds have only strengthened. Right about now, I can hear Original Six fans scoffing at the league's new money. But Vegas has something that more established franchises can't offer: It has guys who've been here for the entire ride. There's no Golden Knights without Jonathan Marchessault.