LONDON, Ont. – Jean-Gabriel Pageau doesn’t belong with the Ottawa Senators’ other rookies.
The 20-year-old forward already has plenty of NHL experience and scored a memorable hat trick in last year’s playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens that led to chants of “Pageau, Pageau, Pageau” in a mock chant of the Habs’ “Ole, Ole, Ole” cheer from a fired-up crowd at Scotiabank Place. So it makes all the sense in the world that he dominated at the weekend’s rookie tournament in London.
“He looks like the best player I’ve seen this weekend,” said Luke Richardson, who coached Pageau with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators last season. “I’m not surprised at all. I wasn’t surprised last year when he went up to Ottawa (and) what he did.”
But Richardson doesn’t think it was a fruitless exercise for Pageau to spend time amid sub-NHL-calibre competition. A little ego boost can’t hurt as the Ottawa native tries to make the Senators roster out of training camp.
“People even mentioned yesterday why he is even here, but it’s kind of a process that he’s never really gone through,” Richardson said Sunday. “Even with the success that he’s got last year and at the end of last year in the NHL I think this is a good step for him to go out and have a chance to dominate at a level like this and just be real confident and stay on that same level that he finished off with last year going into the main camp.”
Pageau, who had four goals and two assists in 10 Stanley Cup playoff games and two goals and two assists in nine regular-season games for the Senators, could get caught up in a numbers game up front. But the natural centre might be too talented to send back to the minors.
“When I’ll be at the big camp I’ll do everything I can to stay up,” he said.
With Ottawa beginning the process of trying to replace the offence gone after the departure of Daniel Alfredsson and the trade of Jakob Silfverberg to the Anaheim Ducks for Bobby Ryan, Pageau could be part of the solution. He scored 80 goals in 175 career QMJHL games.
“He’s just a guy that’s getting better and better all the time,” Richardson said. “He’s real smart, he’s getting stronger, he’s fearless out there and he’s showing a little bit more of an offensive touch, which he showed in junior.”
Taking everything at the weekend’s rookie camp hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs at face value given the low stakes and Pageau’s experience, he played as well as could be expected. Pageau was determined to use it as a way to get into game shape but also capitalize on being a step or three ahead of most of the other prospects on the ice.
“I think coaches give me a lot of chance (to) play with good players, give me a lot of ice time, power-play time, PK time,” he said. “That helps my confidence. When I jump on the ice I’m more confident. I just try to work hard and good things happen when you work hard.”
Working hard isn’t a problem for Pageau from Richardson’s perspective.
“The amount he plays and how he plays up and down the ice, on the bench you look at him, he’s steamy, he’s sweaty but he’s never breathing hard,” the former Ottawa assistant said. “He’s ready for the next shift. He’s a competitor.”
The competition will begin in earnest soon enough for Pageau, who will be among a few young players fighting for spots at the Senators’ training camp. If he manages to put up numbers like he did in the playoffs and carry some momentum over from rookie tournament games, Pageau is a good bet to make it.
“I think this is a great situation for him to go into Ottawa’s training camp with that confidence high,” Richardson said. “He’s really shown everybody that last year was not just a flash in the pan.”