Cup Final an Expansion Reunion for Golden Knights’ Marchessault, Smith

Vegas Golden Knights, Jonathan Marchessault #81. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vegas Golden Knights, Jonathan Marchessault #81. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Two games into this year’s Stanley Cup Final and we’ve seen a little bit of everything from the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights.

Newly minted “Face of the NHL” Matthew Tkachuk keeps taking 10-minute misconduct penalties. Goaltender Adin Hill made the most spectacular save of his career in perhaps the most important game of his career (you’ve probably seen it a million times, but watch it again).

There was also a news reporter nearly fighting a Vegas Golden Knights fan, because the party doesn’t stop when that final horn sounds.

On the Vegas side of the ice are Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, two of the “golden misfits” from Vegas’s expansion draft and inaugural season playing in their second Stanley Cup Final with the franchise.

Across the ice are the Florida Panthers, who let both of them go to the NHL’s newest team back in 2017. It’s an interesting reunion, adding another layer to an already dramatic series.

The Golden Knights’ stars are facing their former team for the Stanley Cup.

Marchessault was Vegas’s selection from Florida in the 2017 expansion draft. Reilly Smith was also traded to Vegas that same evening in an expansion draft-related deal, although he wasn’t an official expansion draft pick.

One of the reasons for the trade was to free up cap space for the Panthers. The other reason was the Panthers wanted to keep Mark Pysyk or Alex Petrovic, and the Smith trade was the price paid for Vegas to take Marchessault with their “official” expansion draft pic instead.

Florida fans at the time weren’t happy. The Hockey News called the Panthers the expansion draft’s “biggest losers” in the same infamous article they predicted the Golden Knights wouldn’t accomplish much in their first season.

Vegas reaped the immediate rewards. In the 2017-2018 season, Marchessault had 27 goals and 48 assists for 75 points and Smith had 22 goals and 38 assists for 60 points in the regular season. The Panthers missed the playoffs each season until 2019-2020.

When the Seattle Kraken came in as the NHL’s 32nd franchise in 2020-2021, teams were cautious about not making the same mistakes.

Seattle even pointed out the lack of opportunities they had in the expansion draft in comparison to Florida’s blunder as a reason they were not able to repeat the inaugural season success of their expansion brethren. The Kraken took an extra season to make their first playoff appearance.

Marchessault recently told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski that he was surprised by the decision and thought he would be protected, before adding that it was “water under the bridge”. The general manager that let him go, Dale Tallon, is no longer with the Panthers.

The only two players left on Florida’s roster that Smith and Marchessault played with are Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad.

The roster turnover in Florida has been more significant than the roster turnover in Vegas since then. Of course, that Tkachuk trade that sent Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames had something to do with that.

Marchessault and Smith have few familiar faces on the other side. Remember those two players that Florida wanted to protect in Pysyk and Petrovic? Pysyk is currently with the Detroit Red Wings. Petrovic is on the Dallas Stars’ AHL team.

With that, the story of Marchessault and Smith playing against their old team becomes nothing more than a footnote in an already exciting and action-packed series.

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Marchessault already has three goals and an assist for four points in two games so far. He nearly had a hat trick in the series’ second game, which would have been the first Stanley Cup Final hat trick since Peter Forsberg for the Colorado Avalanche against the Panthers back in 1996.

How funny would it have been for history to repeat itself with another hat trick against Florida?