LAS VEGAS — Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday will face the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time since they traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks, and one of his former teammates is expecting an emotional night here (10 p.m. ET; TVAS, ATTSN-RM, NBCSCH, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).
“I’m really looking forward to that moment after the video (tribute) he’s going to get,” Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said Friday. “There’s not one night that’s not packed at T-Mobile Arena, but the night with him coming back … He built this city. He built sports in this city. He’s the one who made us successful. I’m getting goose bumps thinking about it.”
After being chosen by Vegas from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Fleury was 117-60-14 in four seasons with the Golden Knights and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18, a five-game loss to the Washington Capitals. Fleury was 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage last season, when he won his first Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL. He and teammate Robin Lehner won the William M. Jennings Trophy last season for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL (124).
But the Golden Knights traded Fleury on July 27 to create space under the NHL salary cap and acquire depth. The next day, they signed free agent Laurent Brossoit to back up Lehner and acquired forward Evgenii Dadonov in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.
Fleury said he doesn’t have any bitter feelings toward Vegas.
“I think it’s behind me, you know?” Fleury said. “I’ll always be grateful for my time here with this organization, but I’m fortunate the Blackhawks wanted me to play for them and continue to do what I love, play hockey. I’m grateful for that.”
Marchessault said he and his teammates miss Fleury on a daily basis, whether it’s the competitiveness that helped him get the third-most wins in NHL history (501) or the pranks he’d play in the locker room.
“It’s almost like the same situation he went through in Pittsburgh,” Marchessault said of Fleury, who played his first 13 NHL seasons with the Penguins after they selected him No. 1 in the 2003 NHL Draft, winning the Stanley Cup three times (2009, 2016, 2017). “He had a lot of history over there, but for us, he started the whole thing and put us on the map. It’s going to be weird, but after the first few shifts, we’ll get used to it.”
For the Golden Knights, Fleury’s return is the culmination of a week of reunions with former Vegas players and coaches.
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Nate Schmidt and forward Paul Stastny faced Vegas on Sunday for the first time since being traded by the Golden Knights, in the Jets’ 5-4 overtime win here; Vegas traded Stastny to Winnipeg on Oct. 9, 2020, and traded Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks three days later.
Coach Gerard Gallant and forward Ryan Reaves returned to Vegas for the first time Thursday with the New York Rangers, who lost 5-1. Gallant, the first coach in Golden Knights history, was fired Jan. 15, 2020. Vegas traded Reaves to New York on July 29.
Like Fleury and Marchessault, Schmidt and Reaves played for the Golden Knights in the expansion team’s inaugural season.
“Just feels weird so far,” Fleury said. “Got in late last night [after a 6-4 loss at the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday], the staff at the hotel was nice and welcoming, and it’s weird to come to the rink and be in this locker room, be on the other side. But I think it’ll be different tomorrow. Maybe emotional tomorrow.”
Marchessault and Fleury would chirp at each other daily during practice. Whether Marchessault had a chance on a drill or a practice shootout attempt, he said his goal was to always get one, or more, past Fleury.
“He despises the puck going into his net in practice,” Schmidt said of Fleury. “Him and Jonathan Marchessault, after every drill … Marchessault would grab the last puck and go on a breakaway and try to score. … You hear a bunch of whooping and hollering. Either he made the save or ‘Marchy’ scored.”
As for Saturday, Marchessault has the same goal in mind.
“I’d like to score a goal on him,” he said. “Just to make it interesting for him.”
Fleury said he wouldn’t expect anything different from the forward.
“A little guy, but a big mouth,” Fleury said of Marchessault (5-foot-9, 184 pounds). “And I’m looking forward to it, actually.”
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report