Top 25 Under 25, No. 10: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Jean-Gabriel Pageau's lack of NHL play last year drops him three spots to no. 10 in this year's installment of the Top 25 Under 25.
Who is the real Jean-Gabriel Pageau? That is the question on the mind of most Senators fans. Sens fans have seen him at his most impressive and his most invisible over the last couple years.
Pageau was drafted in the fourth round, 96th overall, in the 2011 entry draft. This is the same draft that gave Sens fans Mika Zibanejad, Shane Prince, Matt Puempel, and a glimpse of Stefan Noesen, so it is perhaps of note that the writers for this site still put Pageau ahead of all the picks from the draft except for one. (Spoiler alert: Zibanejad made the cut.) Pageau was drafted after impressive junior numbers with Gatineau and Chicoutimi of the QMJHL, but his lack of size (now 5' 9" and 175 lbs) prevented him from being drafted earlier. The now-famous story surrounding the choice of Pageau is that then-director of player personnel, now-assistant GM Pierre Dorion went to a QMJHL game to scout Jonathan Huberdeau, and came away saying to watch out for both no. 11s, the other being Pageau.
He surprised many by starting 2012-13 with Binghamton, though many expected him to return for an overage year in the QMJHL. He further surprised by being called up to help shore up the Sens in the midst of an injury-riddled lockout-shortened 2013 season, and even scored an assist in his first career NHL game. He played the last 9 games of the regular season, putting up 4 points. He stayed up into the playoffs, notching six points in ten games, including possibly the greatest playoff hat-trick in Senators' history (Daniel Alfredsson has the only other one). His points tailed off in the second round against the Penguins, but he did put up positive possession numbers while playing against Sidney Crosby, which is not small feat. Suddenly, this unheralded late-round pick was being hailed as the future of Ottawa. Some did caution though about the small sample size, and that he did have many invisible games. After all, he scored only 1 other goal outside of the hat-trick those playoffs. He had the skill to be an NHLer, but he didn't yet show the consistency.
Fast-forward a year, and the feeling about Pageau is a lot more tepid. People realize that his success may have been premature, and that he still needs seasoning in the AHL. After scoring 29 points in 69 AHL games in 2012-13, he proceeded to score 44 points in 46 games in 2013-14, a large improvement. However, he scored only 2 goals in 28 games with the big club this past season. For most Sens fans, the surprise in the previous sentence is that he actually played 28 NHL games last season. I would've guessed it was somewhere around 10 before looking it up.
It is clearly too early to call Pageau a disappointment. He is only 21-years-old, and as a fourth-round pick, is still well ahead of his three-year projection from 2011. Even writers for this blog seemed to have fallen prey to the hype machine, having raised him from 17th to 7th in the Top 25 Under 25 from Winter to Summer 2013. Perhaps the playoff hat-trick was a curse, as it means that he has expectations he will likely never live up to. His AHL numbers and his possession stats both suggest that he has a promising career ahead of him, and will likely challenge for a roster spot soon. At the very least, fans can expect to see him regularly as a call-up to the NHL team this coming season. At age 21, he still has three more years of eligibility for the Top 25 Under 25, and will most likely see his stock rise again.