Marchessault makes Golden Knights glad Panthers gave him up

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The Vegas Golden Knights' celebrate after Jonathan Marchessault (81) scored on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, not shown, during first period game 2 NHL Western Conference Finals hockey action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Monday, May 14, 2018. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Jonathan Marchessault was left unprotected in the expansion draft by the Florida Panthers, who seemed to determine his breakout season was a fluke.

Oops.

The Vegas Golden Knights selected Marchessault and he averaged nearly a point a game in the regular season, and leads the team with six goals and 15 points in the playoffs.

Marchessault scored twice against the Winnipeg Jets in the series-tying 3-1 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference final Monday night.

"Yeah, I'm satisfied with my game," he said.

Florida was not satisfied, apparently, even though he scored 30 goals in his first full season and had one year left on his contract for a relative bargain of $750,000.

"I was surprised at the decision," he acknowledged. "I had a great season. I think I was one of the top four players at the forward position there, but they did the best decision for their organization. It's been like that my whole career. It was a reality check. Just when you think you can be a little bit comfortable, you can't.

"After I heard I was unprotected, I moved on and hoped that Vegas would pick me and they did."

When the Golden Knights saw up close how good Marchessault was as their leading scorer in early January, they signed him to a $30 million, six-year contract extension . He could have gambled on his future and cashed in even more on free agency this summer, but chose to stay with a team that finally believed in him.

"It was not a tough decision," said Marchessault, who finished the regular season with 27 goals and a career-high 75 points. "When I saw they wanted to keep me long term, I was happy because I wanted stability in my life. It's been a rollercoaster career. I was just happy to be able to buy a home and stay there."

The 5-foot-9, 174-pound Marchessault, married with three young children, bounced around earlier in his career after being undrafted.

"First time I saw Marchy, he was a skilled guy who stayed on the outside. Didn't really battle," said Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant, who had Marchessault on his team in Florida before being fired. "The reason why he's a 30- to 40-goal scorer now is because he's more competitive. He'll go to those hard areas to score some goals. He plays a good, strong game. Small guy, but very competitive."

Before his 51-point season with the Panthers last season, he had a total of 19 points in parts of the three previous seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I was always the underdog because of my size," he said.

Marchessault talked a big game after Vegas lost the series opener at Winnipeg, calling Monday a must-win game, and backed it up. He gave Vegas a two-goal lead in the first period and restored the two-goal lead 1:28 after Winnipeg's Kyle Connor scored midway through the third.

"If you're going to talk out there in the media that you have to be better, I think you need to lead by example," he said. "I tried to do that."

Game 3 is Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

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More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage

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