With the Panthers in Montreal to face the Canadiens on Thursday night, Jonathan Marchessault is just a few hours away from Cap-Rouge, Quebec, the town he grew up in.
But even though Marchessault was born in Quebec, he might have finally found a hockey home in South Florida.
An unheralded free agent signing in July, Marchessault has turned into the best bargain in the NHL.
With 29 goals heading into Thursday’s game, the Panthers are getting quite the return on the $750,000 they are paying Marchessault this season.
“It’s always fun to go back to Montreal, see a lot of friends and family,” Marchessault said. “As a French-Canadian, you get a lot of attention when you play the Canadiens.
“But while it’s fun, I’m still waiting for my first good game there at the Bell Center. It’s hard to play there. It’s a great hockey city, and I know a few guys who are there and they feel lucky to be there.”
For a guy who spent last season shuffling between hotels in Tampa, well, Marchessault feels a little lucky to be able to put down residence in South Florida.
Playing with Tampa Bay last season, Marchessault moved around from line to line and from the ice to the press box, playing just 45 games with the Lightning and 11 with its AHL team in Syracuse.
So, off the ice, he and his family lived a nomadic life — at least around Tampa.
His home was either the Marriott down the street from the arena or the Embassy Suites across the way. At times, they lived in a hotel by the airport.
These days, the Marchessaults live in Delray Beach and Jonathan says they couldn’t be happier.
“Last year was tough. From November through February, we all lived in a hotel and it was rocky,” Marchessault said last week on the morning of his first hat trick, which led to a 7-0 victory over the Blackhawks.
“But you know what? It was good. We made the most of it. I had a great time. But living in Delray has been huge. We’re all settled now, have a routine. It’s a real relief for us.”
The Panthers have been pressed on if they plan on locking up the 26-year-old forward to a long-term deal. But no one seems to be in a rush.
Marchessault, after all, is signed for another year.
Florida’s immediate offering of a two-year deal, assistant general manager Steve Werier figured, would show the Panthers had real faith that Marchessault could play at a high level if given the chance.
That chance has paid off.
Marchessault has been one of the few bright spots on perhaps the most disappointing team in the NHL.
“I want people to remember me, remember the season I had but not for negative reasons,” he said. “I want people to remember me for helping get his team to the playoffs. We have had some ups and downs — a lot of downs — but hopefully we can finish strong.”
With his outburst of goals and contract value, Marchessault will almost certainly be one of the seven forwards the Panthers protect in the upcoming expansion draft, meaning he’ll be back next season — if not for longer.
While interim coach Tom Rowe dismissed talk of an extension just yet, he did express confidence Marchessault’s scoring is by no means a fluke.
Marchessault does not think it is either, and anyone who thinks he’s going to rest on the laurels of this recent success doesn’t really know this guy too well.
“I just want to help this team win hockey games. That’s my only goal,” Marchessault said. “I’m not the kind of guy who is going to stop working, not going to take the easy way. I want to get better every year and that’s my goal. To be better than I was the day before.
“When the chance comes, you need to answer the call.”
THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT CANADIENS
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; Bell Center, Montreal.
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Florida leads 42-41-6.
Scouting report: The Panthers have lost the first two games of this four-game road trip as the 2016-17 season rolls mercifully toward its end. Florida is 1-1 against the Habs with the two meeting again in Sunrise next week.