One year ago today, the New York Islanders acquired J.G. Pageau from the Ottawa Senators for a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, a second-round pick in the 2020 draft, and a conditional third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Upon initial reaction, it was a mixed bag of emotions on the acquisition of the Islanders newest player, who sooner after signed a six-year, $30 million extension.
“The picks are nothing. I can tell you that because a lot of picks never play and this you know you have a solid guy, and he fits right into our hockey team.”Barry Trotz
Now, 25 regular-season games, and 22 playoff games later, Pageau continues to prove on a nightly basis that the draft picks were a small price to pay for his compensation.
First and foremost, Pageau stabilized a position for the Islanders that head coach Barry Trotz had been trying to fill since the departure of Valtteri Filppula. Before his arrival, the center position and the third line had been a revolving door of players that consisted of Derick Brassard, Josh Bailey, Otto Koivula, Michael Dal Colle, and more.
Now, Pageau has been a mainstay at the third-line center position, and his line is starting to form an identity, with Oliver Wahlstrom also claiming a spot on his right. The stability allows Trotz to roll four lines again, much like the 2018-19 season, a big reason why the Islanders were so successful.
Just seven games into Pageau’s Islander tenure, the 2019-20 NHL season went on pause because of a global pandemic. However, he had an immediate impact, scoring the Islanders’ first goal of the game against the New York Rangers in a 4-3 overtime loss in his Islander debut. He also challenged Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba to a fight after a big, open-ice hit on Dal Colle.
It wasn’t until the Islanders reached the bubble that the team secured their first win with Pageau as a part of the squad, but after the first one, they kept on coming. Throughout the 2020 postseason, Pageau was a huge part of the Islanders’ success, largely due to how Trotz deployed him.
Aside from his regular third-line center assignment, Pageau was deployed on both the power play and the penalty kill. He provided a boost to an already great Islanders PK unit, ranking sixth-best (minimum 10 games played in the playoffs) among all teams, with an 81.8% penalty kill percentage.
Pageau proved night in and night out he was meant to wear an Islander sweater. He fit the scrappy, hard-working mold the team identified with. Forechecking and causing turnovers, Pageau was excellent at getting the puck out of his own zone and into the offensive zone. He lit the lamp eight times at even strength and added three assists, and his 55.78 expected goals-for percentage ranked fourth-best among Islanders forwards, behind only Mat Barzal, Anders Lee, and Jordan Eberle.
When he wasn’t helping get the Islanders on the scoresheet, he was creating problems for his opponents. Pageau amassed a 55.6 faceoff win percentage, best on the Isles in the bubble, while contributing 82 hits and blocking 27 shots. Trotz trusted the newest Islander to be out on the ice in the final moments of most games, whether it was to maintain the lead or push for a late goal.
Now in his first full season as an Islander (well, sort of), Pageau picked up where he left off. It only took him three games before he was scoring big goals for the Islanders, batting in the Isles’ only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins earlier this year, the first goal at Nassau Coliseum for the 2020-21 season.
Sure, he went on a bit of a cold-streak, not having put the puck in the net in eight games after his first goal of the season. However, he did tally three assists, and was still a noticeable force on the ice, once again giving his opponents a problem.
“He’s very competitive, a highly-intelligent two-way player, and his skill set is underrated,” Trotz said of Pageau just before training camp began last month. “One of the things, and it’s unfortunate, sometimes I keep putting him in a situation where he has new linemates a lot. It’s probably the same kind of trust I have in [veteran forward] Josh Bailey in terms of a highly intelligent player who can play multiple positions.”
Pageau now has 11 points (seven goals, four assists) through 18 games, tied for second on the team with Lee and Eberle once again. It’s no coincidence that he is consistently in the mix with the Isles’ top forwards. Four of those points came on the power play, including two big power-play goals. He even scored a goal shorthanded, once again helping lead the Islanders to their second victory over the big bad Bruins. With seven goals on 32 shots, Pageau is burying the puck with an Isles-best 21.9 shooting percentage.
The advanced stats love Pageau again, as he boasts a 75% goals-for percentage. He’s been on the ice for 15 goals, while only on for five against in 18 contests. True to his game, he’s dominating in the faceoff circle with a 57.4 FOW%, while blocking 20 shots and adding 32 hits.
Pageau is showing up in the big moments, and putting in the work game in and game out, all while making his presence felt in the locker room.
Some have questioned whether Pageau was worth the price general manager Lou Lamoriello paid for him one year ago. By now, it should be a unanimous agreement that he is worth every penny, proving on a nightly basis to be one of the Islanders’ best players all around.
Pageau was the right guy for the Islanders, and very much has made a case for being the best acquisition at the 2019-20 NHL Trade Deadline. He’s not only an Islander on the ice but an Islander in the locker room, and a true leader on the team. Guys like Pageau don’t grow on trees, and the Isles secured a big piece of the puzzle for the future of their franchise.
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