Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Beating the Odds

Pageau, formerly of Gatineau and Chicoutimi of the QMJHL and a Hull native, has made enough of an influence in the AHL to earn a shot in the NHL. He has two points in as many games, including his first NHL goal. I take a look at how unlikely his debut has already been.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau made his debut last week against the Philadelphia Flyers. With the Senators clinging to a one-goal lead, hoping to stop a five-game slide down the Eastern Conference standings and with Ilya Bryzgalov on the bench for an extra attacker, Paul MacLean elected to send Pageau out on the ice. Pageau has earned himself respect in the mind of Luke Richardson in Binghamton and Richardson evidently passed on the word to MacLean in Ottawa: use this kid in all situations. The Senators hung on for an enormous win and Pageau earned a secondary assist on Daniel Alfredsson's empty net goal.

On Friday night, he was in the lineup again, playing on the same line with Erik Condra and Colin Greening. He scored a goal, a tip on a Colin Greening shot that went over the shoulder of Martin Brodeur, arguably the best goaltender of all time and a French-Canadian, like Pageau. The Senators won.

That's some weekend.

For Pageau, a Hull native and fourth-round pick of the Senators in 2011, it's a product of hard work, of quickly adapting to the professional game in the AHL after being a star in the QMJHL. That transition is difficult to make, especially for a player about whom an article will rarely be written without mention of his 5'9 stature. Pageau, in 69 games this year with the Binghamton Senators, has carved out an identity. He plays a strong two-way game and relies on quick hands and excellent skating to forecheck and backcheck tenaciously. According to the Sportsnet East broadcast from Thursday night, he is also sporting a 54% win-rate in the faceoff circle.

No matter the excitement that has greeted the productive start to his career, Pageau is by no means an NHL regular quite yet. The Senators have had fourteen rookies play games for them this season. Mark Borowiecki, Derek Grant, David Dziurzynski, Stephane Da Costa and Mark Stone have all enjoyed a cup of coffee at the NHL level before being sent down to the AHL with marching orders on how to improve their game for the next time they get the call. Since his return to the Binghamton lineup, Mark Stone has been among Binghamton's most potent offensive players.

Though he obviously has the confidence of his head coach and has done nothing to disappoint, Pageau could easily fall victim to the same fate and it could hardly be seen as a disappointment. The Senators may want to give Corey Cowick a chance. Cowick has turned around his game in a very productive season for Binghamton. Or, Mike Hoffman may return from injury, although that seems less likely given his injury is a re-aggravation of the collarbone break that at one time threatened to end his season.

Either way, JGP is well ahead of his development curve. Startlingly so. Pageau is the latest of a long list of players who have come to the Senators from the team in Binghamton and displayed competence. However, in certain ways, he may be the most notable, thanks to the very slim likelihood of his having played a game at this stage in his career.

Tall Odds:

Taken at 96th overall in the 2011 draft class, Pageau is the first in his round to play a game in the NHL and only the 20th player, with 16 of those preceding him having been selected in the first round. The only players to have been taken later in the draft and play a game in the NHL are Chicago's Andrew Shaw, who has appeared in 77 games with the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay's Ondrej Palat, who has stepped in for 14 with the Lightning.

Pageau made his NHL debut before fellow 2011 draftees Matt Puempel, Stefan Noesen and Shane Prince. Granted, Puempel and Noesen are still in Junior (Puempel's season ended this weekend and he is en route to Binghamton).

If Pageau manages to stick with the team and plays through the rest of the season (7 more games, including tonight's), he will have appeared in 9 games. Considering the five drafts before his, that's quite unlikely. From the 2010 Entry Draft, only 3 players from the fourth round have appeared in NHL action. Pageau has already played as many games as 2 of them. Two players from the third round that year have also played games.

From 2006-2010, a period in which 150 players were selected, only 27 have appeared in more than the 9 games Pageau could see by the end of the regular season. That means Pageau had an 18 percent chance of appearing in 9 NHL games between three and seven years out of the draft. It should be noted that some of those players committed to college programs.

Between 2004-2010, there was only one draft in which more than half of the players have seen any time in the NHL, let alone who among them have earned roster spots. That year was 2005, out of which 17 have played games. In some years, it's been considerably less: only 7 of the fourth rounders in 2006 have played a game. Only four have played more than ten games and only two, James Reimer and Matt Beleskey, have played over a full season.

Pageau has work to do to be a mainstay with the Senators. He is still very much a prospect. However, he has already given Sens fans a glimpse of why he was Pierre Dorion's "favourite player in the [2011] draft". Jean-Gabriel Pageau, which flows much easier off the tongue than "JGP", has already beaten the odds to play in the NHL. As a center in the Senators crowded system, he's going to have to make a habit of it.

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