For the Ottawa Senators’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the 2018-19 season was disappointing. In 39 games, the 27-year-old Ottawa native only scored four goals and eight assists. Given the success he’d experienced throughout his career (his best season was 2015-16 when he scored 19 goals and 24 assists for 43 points), last season was a bust.
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This season is different, even having played one game fewer (38 so far this season), Pageau has more than doubled his scoring with 18 goals, 10 assists, and 28 points. He has a good chance of tying his career-high of 19 goals before the season is halfway through.
Pageau’s Lack of Success in 2018-19
Last season, Pageau never found his scoring touch. Perhaps that was expected after he missed the first 42 games with an injured Achilles. Still, during that season, he averaged about 17 minutes of ice time, which was his highest ever (This season, he’s averaging just over 18 minutes). He also centered last season’s first line and the top power-play unit, so there were no excuses for a scoring drought – he had many opportunities to contribute offensively.
Even when Pageau started to gain momentum in mid-March, it was crushed when he was suspended for a game for boarding the Vancouver Canucks’ Ashton Sautner from behind. Before the suspension, he’d scored five points in eight games. After the suspension, he experienced a 10-game goalless drought and finished the season on a funk.
This Season Started Differently for Pageau
This season started differently for Pageau. Although the Senators started October with a 1-6-1 record, Pageau tallied five points in those eight games. That might seem meager for many NHL players but, combined with Pageau’s lack of success last season and the team’s lack of goal scoring (the Senators scored only 17 goals in those eight games), it must have seemed like a new beginning for the Senators’ veteran.
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Although the team started slowly, it gave some inkling it might not be a pushover when, on Oct. 12, they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on home ice. It was both the team’s first win and, in that game, Pageau scored a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a goal, an assist, and a fighting major.
That was a surprise from Pageau, a player not known for being physical. At least he was wise enough to pick on someone his own size in tangling with Calgary-native Bayden Point: Pageau is listed at 5-feet-10 and 180 pounds and Point at 5-feet-10 and 166 pounds. Regardless, it was an oddity.
Then, during the Oct. 23 game against the Detroit Red Wings (the Senators’ second win of the season), Pageau scored a shorthanded, game-winning goal that snapped a 2-2 tie when he created a turnover at his own blue line and scored on a breakaway. Pageau’s strong 2019-20 start, with three goals and six points in nine games and a plus-eight rating, came on a team that had lost seven of its nine games.
Suddenly, hockey commentators took notice and began to suggest that, after an injury-limited 2018-19 season, a healthy Pageau might score 15 goals and 30 points. Surprisingly, Pageau has scored almost that many points and the season isn’t half over.
Pageau’s November Milestones
In a Nov. 4 6-2 road victory over the New York Rangers, Pageau scored the first two-goal game of his career. His second goal was highlight-reel and put the Senators ahead 4-1 halfway through the second period. Again, Pageau blocked a shot in the defensive end and scored on a breakaway. On Nov. 7, Pageau scored in overtime to give the Senators a 3-2 victory over the Kings. He then scored a goal in the team’s 4-1 victory over a strong Carolina Hurricanes’ team on Nov. 9.
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On Nov. 13, Pageau topped his two-goal performance against the Kings with a hat trick against the New Jersey Devils. Interestingly, he had only three shots on goal and every shot found the back of the net in the 4-2 win. Also interesting, all the goals were at even strength. He hadn’t scored a power-play goal all season. With that hat trick, he became the Senators’ team leader with 11 goals and 15 points in 18 games.
Where’s Pageau Now?
Pageau has slowed down in December, but only a bit. In Dec. 23’s 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, Pageau scored two goals, including the game-winner. He also won 10 of 17 faceoffs. Pageau is having the best season of his NHL career with 28 points and a strong plus-21 in 38 games.
What’s curious about Pageau’s game is that, although his shooting percentage is over 20 percent, he doesn’t shoot much. Coming into the Sabres game, he hadn’t scored in five games, but he also had only seven shots in those five games. It’s unlikely he’ll sustain this season’s career-breaking pace if he doesn’t shoot on net.
Still, it’s hard to fault Pageau for this season’s play. Although the Senators have come on after a slow start, he continues to lead an otherwise lackluster offense. The team currently sits, after 38 games into the season, with a 16-18-4 record.
That’s certainly better than most hockey commentators had predicted at the season’s start. Many had the Senators pegged dead last. But, thanks to players with turn-around seasons like Pageau and head coach D.J. Smith’s leadership, the Senators are having a good season.
Will Pageau Stay with the Senators?
Pageau’s success this season is a bonus to both the Senators and to him as a player. Given the team’s status as a rebuilding team, Pageau will likely leave Ottawa. Given his success, he’ll probably net good return in the trade market. In fact, he might even score the team a first-round draft pick when the trade deadline comes around.
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Pageau’s currently one of the Senators’ top offensive players, but he’ll become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Because the team won’t make the playoffs, the Senators would be wise to get something for him if they’re unwilling to re-sign him. He might have even more success playing with a team that can surround him with stronger players than the rebuilding Senators.
In fact, Pageau is still young and, if he’s as good as this season suggests, no one really knows what more there might be to his game. A team might be willing to take a chance even beyond renting him this season.
My guess is that trading him is a no-brainer for the Senators before the trade deadline. That said, given that Pageau’s a hometown player, would he be willing to take a team-friendly contract? And, if he were, would the team want to make him part of their roster next season?
We’ll likely know soon.