Of all the pending RFAs that the Ottawa Senators need to address, Jean-Gabriel Pageau is the one for whom they have the least information. The diminutive centre has been good in his limited time in the NHL, but he's only played 50 career games. Unlike his Binghamton brethren Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, Pageau was unable to crack the 2014-15 line-up to start the year. Pageau also has the misfortune of playing centre, the only position at which the Senators have undeniable organizational depth. Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad are the undisputed first and second line centres of the future, and with Curtis Hockey Jesus Lazar making his way to the pros at age 19 it's hard to imagine Pageau ever reaching higher than 4C. And all this is before we address David Legwand, who's still under contract for another year after this one, or Zack Smith. Needless to say, Pageau's got a bit of an uphill battle ahead of him to carve out a long-term spot with the big team.
What we're left with then is a clearly talented player who'll likely only stick with the Senators if the club makes room for him. Legwand won't be around forever, but Zack Smith is signed through 2017. Pageau's been good since his recall in December, yet he he's only registered 3 points in 13 games. More significantly than that, he's gone for 9 points in his entire NHL career. He's still young, he'll be 23 this year, so maybe there is more scoring to come. It's not hard to imagine 30 points if he was given a regular role. Why? He drives play well in spite of being mostly relegated to a defensive role, he generates shot at a good clip, and he's scored well in both the AHL and the QMJHL. But he hasn't done it yet, and NHL teams still greatly value point scoring.
Normally, I'd fully advocate for the Sens taking a long term gamble on a talented, young player. After all, as a budget team they need to get the most out of their own players to give themselves any space at all to sign UFAs or retain top talent when they're set to hit the market. If you believe Pageau is going to be a long term fixture down the middle, they should consider going 3-4 years at $1.5MM per. Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad and Mark Stone are all players that are key cornerstones of the team's future. They're virtually guaranteed to play in the top 9, if not the top 6, for years to come. Ottawa should get them locked up long term today; that's the kind of smart gamble budget teams take. Right now, we just don't know enough about Pageau and we don't know where he fits in the organization.
At the end of the day, Pageau is an asset that could very well appreciate in value over the next few years and smart teams don't just throw those away. He's got a higher ceiling than Zack Smith, the incumbent fourth line centre, but he won't fetch much in return if the team tried to trade him. If I had to make the choice today, I can't imagine going longer than 2 years and offering more than $1M; Pageau's got no leverage in virtually every sense of the word. However, if the team's going to rid themselves of Legwand and Smith, perhaps in order to shore up their backend, then Pageau's situation changes dramatically.