Top 25 Under 25, #6: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
J.G. Pageau climbs four spots from last season on our list.
The 2015-16 season will be Jean-Gabriel Pageau's first full year in the NHL. He's finally made it.
And not that his own play has been holding him back, it's quite the opposite. In the eyes of many, Pageau should have been in this position a long time ago.
The first we got to see of the hometown kid was in 2013. In an injury ridden (and shortened) season, Pageau was called up for the final nine games of the regular season and continued his stay during the Senators' playoff run. And that's where he made his major breakthrough.
You might remember this part.
And so the legend of J.G. Pageau was born. Along with it, an Ottawa style rendition of Montreal's famous Olé chant that is now overused and losing its value, but clearly that discussion is for another day.
The year after his successful playoff run with the team, the Senators were healthy once again and Pageau was back in the AHL. Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad were all rightfully given their own place in the top nine, but Zack Smith stood in the way of Pageau creeping onto the roster. Seniority and familiarity may have been very much in Smith's favour, as he was featured on head coach Paul MacLean's favourite checking line for the entire season.
As for Pageau, he was brought up later in the year for 28 games.
Then, almost a year ago, the Gatineau native found himself starting the year in Binghamton a third year in a row.
"Contracts come into play big time and I told him that this morning that one-way contracts versus two-way contracts make the difference. We make commitments to players and then somebody else steps in and does a little better job maybe but for now he has to go down and play well, be a star down there which he should be and it’ll give him a chance to play." - Bryan Murray. TSN 1200. Oct. 7, 2014.
Ottawa had their four centres set and for one last time, Pageau was left out of the mix. Turris, Zibanejad and newly acquired David Legwand manned the top nine, and there was Smith again standing in the way.
It wasn't until mid December that Pageau saw ice time in the NHL. And once he proved he was here to stay, settling into the new and improved checking line alongside Curtis Lazar and
current beloved and cherished former Senator Erik Condra, it became clear that Pageau was the team's No. 3 centre. There was no competition.
And there still isn't.
When the team plays their first game in Buffalo on October 8, Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad will centre the top two lines and Pageau will be the bottom six's go-to guy. He won't be starting the season in Binghamton, he won't be fighting for a roster spot, he'll be in his rightful place; driving possession, creating offense where he can and bringing a much needed reliable presence in shutdown situations.
This year, the Senators have their first full season of Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Carey Price is shaking in his boots.