Top 25 Under 25, no. 17: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Jean-Gabriel Pageau was taken in the fourth round by the Senators back in the 2011 draft and has already made the jump to the AHL. The bigger question is what's to come.
It's tough to know what to make of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. At 5"9 and hovering around 170 pounds, Pageau faces the usual skepticism given to a smaller player. Nobody questions his ability or speed, but becoming an NHL player when you don't have a bigger frame is difficult. Yet, throughout this entire career to date, Pageau has challenged those doubts, first in being a dominant force in the QMJHL, then by being drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and now by playing professional hockey beginning at 19 in the AHL. Those who look at his stat line and his biography shrug off whatever future Pageau might otherwise have, insisting that it will be too difficult for him to translate that ability at the professional level, or in the NHL. Indeed, players can certainly exceed point-per-game rates in the QMJHL and never see anything close to that level of production, even statistically adjusted to the NHL, as they develop.
Centre / Ottawa Senators
Nov. 11, 1992 (Age 20)
However, Pageau more than put up points, first with the Gatineau Olympiques, who he captained, and then the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, to whom he was traded. He played against the other team's top players and shut them down defensively, tenaciously dogging offensive talents around his own defensive end. No matter his acknowledged deficiencies, Pageau has a way of winning over those who watch him play, perhaps most importantly with Pierre Dorion and Bryan Murray:
On Saturday, Murray and Dorion scored an interesting consolation prize in Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Gatineau Olympiques, just across the river from Ottawa. He is a skilled but under-sized centre at 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds, which was why the Senators were able to get him at 96th overall in the fourth round.
"[Pageau] might be my favourite player we took," Dorion said. "When you saw Gatineau, he was the best player on the ice most nights."
During the QMJHL final, Dorion watched a game between Gatineau and the Saint John Seadogs with Murray. They were there to watch Seadogs centre Jonathan Huberdeau, who was one of the top five prospects for the entry draft and also wore No. 11.
"I was with Bryan Murray and he's not the biggest fan of small players," Dorion said. "He said, 'Pierre, just take both number elevens. One was Huberdeau and one was Pageau.
"[Pageau] is a good player, a competitive player, a key player for that team. He was on the ice every second shift. He had no stamina but he played his heart out."
- Dan Shoalts, The Globe and Mail, June 2011
That effusive praise was from the Senators draft weekend. A year and a half later, Pageau has graduated to the AHL where he plays under Binghamton coach Luke Richardson. Pageau has spent much of the season playing in a depth role, but in many situations for the B-Sens. His two way game has made him a valuable contributor on occasion playing with the penalty kill. Pageau has put up thirteen points through forty games as a mainstay on the Bingo roster. After watching some of the early parts of Binghamton's season, Pageau caught my eye. Here's what I had to say after a shootout loss at the hands of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton back in November:
The most striking part of Pageau's game is his poise. In his first year out of junior, Pageau has adopted the confidence of a veteran, turning back behind his own net when he doesn't see the right outlet and creating offense through a tenacious forecheck. He is all over the ice with speed and good vision. Exciting player.
Pageau deserves this kind of praise. He skates hard, backchecks well and is an intelligent player. Still, some problems continue to dog his game. First of all, it isn't every game where he earns this kind of recognition, which is okay. However, his difficulty is in still remaining relevant on the ice when he isn't completely on his game. Some nights, Pageau is hard to track down. Since he projects in the NHL as a two-way contributor, capable of anchoring a shutdown line or offering secondary scoring, he needs to find a way to make his game very valuable indeed, whether he's hitting his stride or not.
Pageau is part of a long list of forwards in this organization who hope to get their chance at the NHL level. Yet, he offers some unique tools-- an offensive game that's occasionally flashy and a defensive game that is for the most part reliable. Moreover, he seems to have the eye of the organization, keen to make a player out of the prospect they selected in the fourth round of perhaps the most important draft in Ottawa's history. It would seem that Jean-Gabriel Pageau will get a real chance to make his mark at the professional level in years to come. However, there is still work to be done. Pageau will continue honing his game under Luke Richardson, biding time until a real job opens up in training camp. The current group of Ottawa's bottom-six look like they'll be sticking around for some time, but there's no rush on Pageau's development. After all, he only turned twenty back in November. Plenty of time will pass, but Pageau will once again have an opportunity to show skeptics his game.