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Jonathan Marchessault’s emergence highlights a blind spot for NHL teams

How did several teams let such a talented player go?

Nashville Predators v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

Jonathan Marchessault took the road less traveled en route to his six-year, $30 million extension with the Vegas Golden Knights. An undersized forward who bounced around with three other organizations, he was available in the expansion draft last year even after a 51-point season with the Florida Panthers.

During the first few years of his career, Marchessault was repeatedly passed over by NHL teams despite impressive production. As a junior player, he went undrafted even though he topped out with 95 points in 68 games in the QMJHL. In his first two AHL seasons, he racked up 131 points in 150 games. He was still in his early 20s.

Everything about those numbers would suggest Marchessault was a player with major NHL potential, yet he wasn’t given the opportunity. He wound up spending four seasons primarily in the AHL, and was traded to Tampa Bay in 2014 for ... Dana Tyrell and Matt Taormina. Whoops.

Marchessault’s breakout is a good example of the kind of player that NHL teams can fail to properly recognize as a top prospect. More than anything, it shows how teams can prioritize size over skill and production, particularly when it comes to evaluating young players.

Consider the way each team discarded him before he landed with Vegas, even as he continued to show signs of ability. The Blue Jackets got rid of him after excellent AHL performance while giving him a total of 22 minutes in the NHL. The Lightning gave him 47 games, but similarly pulled the plug by allowing him to walk as a free agent.

Then came the Panthers, the most inexplicable of the bunch. Florida made the brilliant decision to sign Marchessault to a two-year, $1.5 million deal, which proved to be one of the 2016-17 season’s greatest bargains as he recorded 30 goals in 75 games. However, management in Sunrise was overhauled following a losing season, and Dale Tallon decided to undo a lot of what the previous front office did. That included getting rid of Marchessault and Reilly Smith in the expansion draft even though they were two of Florida’s best forwards.

But seriously, what was Tallon thinking? Marchessault still had another year at a bargain $750,000 cap hit left on his deal. He could’ve protected Marchessault, Smith, and another forward under the 7-3-1 format, but opted to protect Alex Petrovic under the eight-skater format. Now Petrovic is in the midst of a struggling season on Florida’s third pairing, and Marchessault is tied for 22nd in the NHL in points.

Except that fact shouldn’t be entirely surprising to anyone who followed Marchessault’s career. He put up big numbers in juniors and the AHL in his early 20s. He was very good for the Panthers just last season, finishing tied for 25th in the league in goals scored with the likes of Connor McDavid.

Still, it took Marchessault a long time to get a proper NHL shot, and it took him even longer to convince an NHL GM he was worth committing to. The main reason for that is that he’s 5’9, rather than 6’3. Despite all the evolution in a league that’s getting faster and more skilled, the bias toward bigger players remains very real.