Jean-Gabriel Pageau Having Breakout Season

After losing a key player in Erik Condra to free agency last year, Ottawa Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau has stepped up to fill the gap.

Remember when Erik Condra left?

Ottawa Senators fans were scared. They had every right to be. Condra filled a key role on the team as the leading penalty killer – a team that struggled season after season with staying out of the box. And the way he left the team wasn’t exactly something fans wanted to think about.

The Senators were given the chance to match the offer Condra received from the Tampa Bay Lightning – a contract worth $3.75m over three years ($1.25m/year). That’s a fairly reasonable contract for an experienced utility bottom-six forward who clearly loved his time in the city of Ottawa. But, the Senators said no thanks.

And, understandably, panic ensued.

Someone needed to fill the missing gap in the lineup – and someone did. Enter Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau Has Surpassed Expectations

After signing his first career one-way contract this past offseason, Pageau has more than proved he’s worth every penny of the two-year $1.8M extension. He began the season penciled in to hold down the 3rd centre spot while given the task of replacing the utility that Condra brought to a struggling penalty kill last season. Now, as the 2015-16 season comes to an end, he’s more than surpassed the expectations set for him, claiming a spot on the team’s top point producing line and leading the league in short-handed goals.

In a desperate late-season move to create chemistry due to injuries and lack of consistent offensive production, Pageau was placed on a line alongside Mark Stone and Zack Smith. The trio developed chemistry almost instantly.

Related: An Open Letter To Senators’ Owner Eugene Melnyk

In the mix of that line combination, Pageau has made his presence known. Through 76 games, he has surpassed his career season totals with 17 goals and 20 assists, securing him 6th place in Senators’ scoring.

Alongside his late season production with his new linemates, Pageau’s presence has unquestionably been felt on Ottawa’s penalty kill. It’s not often you hear good things coming out of the league’s 29th ranked PK (75.5%), but he has radiated that positivity, leading the NHL in short-handed goals.

And you can’t talk about the Ottawa-born centre without mentioning his trademark – elevating his play against the Montreal Canadiens.

Where Does Pageau Fit in Next Season?

While the Senators are on the verge of some supposed changes, you can’t help but wonder what’s in store for Pageau next season with one year remaining in his contract. Though the ideal Senators top line may look like Kyle Turris/Mark Stone/Clarke MacArthur, with trade rumors looming, he could very well find himself a permanent place on the 2nd line.

“You look at (Pageau), he plays hard night in and night out. Competes. Great guy to be on your team. I played against him for a while and had to battle with him so to have him…he just plays hard night in and night out. Shows again, shorthanded goal shifts the momentum of the game” – Dion Phaneuf

Even more notably, as talks surrounding the expansion draft heat up, TSN projected Pageau and Bobby Ryan could compete for team protection in 2017. That’s a big statement to be made for two players with a contract difference of over $6 million.

Whatever the future holds, it’s looking bright for Pageau after his first full season in the NHL.