DALLAS -- Jonathan Marchessault isn't getting ahead of himself, as the Vegas Golden Knights still need a win in Game 4 on Thursday to close out the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals.
But already waiting in the Stanley Cup Final are the Florida Panthers. That's the team that tossed Marchessault into the 2017 expansion draft, resulting in him becoming a Golden Knight.
"You know what? I thought they were going to protect me," Marchessault said Thursday. "I was surprised of the decision. But I mean, that's just the way she goes sometimes. Keeps you honest."
Dale Tallon, the general manager of the Florida Panthers at the time, handed Vegas two foundational pieces in the 2017 expansion draft. Marchessault was coming off a 30-goal season in just his second full NHL campaign. Now, at 32 years old, he has scored 348 points, including 150 goals, in 432 games with Vegas.
Exposing him was enticement for Vegas to trade for forward Reilly Smith, whose five-year contract extension was set to kick in that season. In what was seen as a cost-cutting move at the time, the Panthers traded Smith to Vegas for a 2018 fourth-round pick. He has 286 points in 399 games with the Knights.
Marchessault was convinced that he would be protected by Florida, but in addition to seeking cost savings on Smith's contract, the Panthers also wanted to protect defensemen Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk from the expansion draft.
Justified Tallon at the time: "You win championships with defense first."
Tallon left the franchise in 2020 and was replaced by current GM Bill Zito, who was just announced as a finalist for NHL general manager of the year.
Marchessault, like many of the "Golden Misfits" from Vegas' inaugural season, played with a chip on his shoulder about the Panthers' decision. While it still surprises him, he said he has moved on.
"It's a long time ago. It's water under the bridge," Marchessault said. "I was disappointed at the time but that's six years ago now, so it doesn't bother me anymore. I know it's my old team, but good for them. I don't worry too much about them anymore. I worry about our team."
Marchessault said he and Smith have discussed their Panthers past together.
"Yeah, we do, sometimes. It's how we built our organization, with trades like that," Marchessault said. "We've done good things here and we're not going to be satisfied with nothing else than winning it all. That's why we're still here."
The Panthers still have a few connections to the team on which Marchessault played, including captain Aleksander Barkov and top defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
If the Golden Knights advance to the Stanley Cup Final, Marchessault says they'll meet a Panthers team that is similar to the Vegas squad that went to the championship round in the franchise's inaugural season.
"They're kind of a similar team to what we had here in the first year. Kind of this Cinderella story," Marchessault said. "They worked their way there and hard work pays off sometimes. In the playoffs, it's how desperate and how bad a team wants it. And I think they've wanted it more. They've dominated most of the games they've played in the playoffs."