No. 2: Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Reader rank: 1, Last Year: 2)
In terms of the regular season, JGP had a good year.
He entered the season coming of a career high the previous year that nearly tripled his NHL points total, with questions of just how much of that he could repeat with different linemates and in a different system.
Our answer: He was able to repeat much of it, but not all.
The one area where he saw a sharp decline was short hand goals. Not entirely unexpected - no player has managed to consistently put up high number of shorties season after season since the 80s. The changes to the penalty kill system under Boucher also has significantly cut down on the risky plays that sometimes lead to those goals. Pageau wasn’t entirely without shorthanded scoring though, putting up a pair of short handed assists for the season.
Where it did largely repeat was at 5 on 5. With slightly less ice time he went from eight goals at 5 on 5 in 2015-16 to 10 in 2016-17, and held steady at 18 assists. He scored more, he shot more, he got more high quality looks, and even raised his 5 on 5 faceoff % to 55.6%. It probably helped that he was less buried in defensive zone last season than in 15-16, but less is relative - he still was on for more defensive draws than any other Sens forward and had the second lowest offensive zone start % of the group behind (the 2 GP) Mike Blunden.
All told, a good regular season.
...Then enter Playoff Pageau. You know Playoff Pageau. He’s the one who loses a tooth while scoring a hat trick. He’s the one who scores to keep the series comeback from 3-0 ali... oh, quick whistle. He’s the one who takes his regular season “Honey badger” reputation for not backing down and doubles down in the post season.
That Playoff Pageau? Forget him. This one is better.
This one doesn’t score a hat trick, he scores four goals and finishes off the natural hat trick with the double-OT winner. This one leads the team in goals for the playoffs, and a four-way tie for fifth in the league. This one gets hard minutes against the opposition’s top lines - some of the most productive players in the league - and largely shuts them down.
This one looks back at past playoffs and what made him a fan favourite, says “Nah, I can do better”, and then does it. The rafters sang with the co-opted stolen chant of his name.
So where does Pageau go this coming season? That may depend largely on where he ends up in the lineup. With Derick Brassard’s injury, Pageau is pretty much a lock for the 2C position to start the year, and may hold on to that if he starts the season how he finished the playoffs. Playing in the 2C position can help the point totals too. He was largely with Tom Pyatt during the regular season, but spent much less time with him in the playoffs (and much more productive time away from him). Both regular and post-season, he put up points at a much higher rate when he wasn’t playing with Pyatt. He has shown good chemistry with Mike Hoffman in the regular season for two years in a row now - over a third of his 5 on 5 points last season came with Hoffman, despite spending less than a third of his ice time with the Hoff.
One thing is for sure - up or down the lineup, shut down or scoring, Pageau will continue to be a big impact player in a small package.
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