A couple of weeks ago, Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau returned from Canada to Long Island with his wife Camille and two dogs to settle in and get ready for the 2020-21 NHL season. After being acquired by the Islanders prior to the trading deadline last season, Pageau was an instant hit with his new teammates and the fans and then following the pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped the Isles navigate through the post-season in the bubble with series wins over Florida, Washington, and Philadelphia before falling in six games to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.
And now the 28-year-old Pageau will be with the Islanders from the start as the team hopes to climb back up the mountain and compete for the Stanley Cup.
“I’m super excited,” said Pageau. “We get to look back and be proud of what we accomplished but we can’t be satisfied. I think it’s just exciting that hockey is back and we get to be all together again. We have a very solid group and everything’s exciting.”
The Islanders dealt their first and second round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft to Ottawa in exchange for Pageau last February 24th. It was a big price to pay, but the Islanders were able to get Pageau to immediately sign a six-year contract extension on the day of the trade. He didn’t take very long to make an impact as he scored goals in each of his first two games as an Islander. In 67 regular season games with the Senators and Islanders, Pageau totaled 26 goals and 16 assists for 42 points.
Pageau joined the Islanders as the team was mired in a regular season ending seven game losing streak and then the NHL season was paused in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the NHL returned to play, Pageau finally tasted victory as an Islander in an exhibition win over the Rangers before the post-season started. In 22 playoff games, Pageau had eight goals and three assists for eleven points in helping the Islanders get within six wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.
Islanders Ready For A Full But Truncated Season With Pageau:
But now, Pageau gets to start a season with the Islanders for the first time and the team is all smiles about that.
“It means a lot,” said Head Coach Barry Trotz. “You didn’t really know how valuable he was when we got him. Then you got to see it live and in action in the playoffs and I thought he was outstanding. You talk about leadership, you talk about compete, you talk about being a really good pro and driving the group. We’re setting a certain culture. We’re finding individuals that can do what we want to do. Pager is a big part (of that).”
Although it was difficult to be away from their families, Pageau and the Islanders embraced being in the bubble and they were able to create some special chemistry during all of the time they spent together. One of the team-bonding events away from hockey was the “Boys Of The Isle” ping-pong tournament in the hotel that Pageau won. Pageau knocked off Adam Pelech in the championship match of the singles competition, but he also drew a lot of attention on social media for his entrance to the semifinal against Mat Barzal. Pageau wore a white robe and white headband and made a flashy entrance into the room set to music. On the ice, an instant iconic moment occurred in the qualifying round against the Panthers when the 5-10 Pageau stood up to 6-7 Florida center Brian Boyle during a skirmish and made a motion towards him like he wanted to mix it up.
Pageau, a fourth-round pick by Ottawa in 2011, was a perfect fit for the Islanders and became an immediate fan favorite and was a big hit among the rest of the team.
“I got to know the guys really well in the bubble playing ping-pong and playing some different games and playing hockey,” said Pageau. “We got to spend a lot of time together and it gave me the chance to learn a little bit more about everyone.”
Pageau Fell In Love With The Islanders And Long Island Quickly:
There are many times when teams pick up “rental” players at the trading deadline. A rental is a player that is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so the team that is acquiring that player is rolling the dice that he could be the missing piece for a Stanley Cup that season and/or they feel that they have a chance to sign the player to an extension. In the past, the Islanders acquired rentals like Ryan Smyth and Thomas Vanek but lost them in free agency.
With Pageau, the Islanders were able to get him to commit to long term to Long Island.
“It was the best decision I could have made,” said Pageau. “The guys are amazing. You can really see how they care about you when they’re talking to you. The organization is really taking care of the families super well. I felt so welcomed since day one.”
And now that he’s back on Long Island, Pageau and his wife will get a chance to explore the region a little more, especially the Islanders’ future home office.
Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Islanders will start the season without fans at Nassau Coliseum. This will be the Islanders’ final season at “The Barn” before moving to their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park next season. Pageau has seen videos and photos of the construction progress while also getting an in person look one evening.
“We drove once by it but it was at night so we’re going to need to go on a ride again and see that,” said Pageau. “It looks amazing. It’s pretty exciting.”
It’s Back To Work For Pageau And The Islanders:
Pageau and the Islanders reported to training camp on Sunday and went through their first practice on Monday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. This will actually be Pageau’s second training camp with the Islanders as he went through last season’s training camp 2.0 this past summer when the NHL returned to play. It didn’t take him long to become a leader and an important player at both ends of the ice.
Having him from day one is so important for the Islanders, especially in a truncated 56 game regular season.
“It will be huge,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee. “You saw how Pager came in and was effective game from day one and the impact he had on our team throughout the playoffs whether it was big goals or his 200-foot game. All those things that make him who he is…we don’t make that run without him and the way he played. It’s going to be great to have him from the get-go here.”
Three of the Islanders’ four lines appear to be set, but it’s still very much up in the air as to who Pageau’s wingers are going to be. He enjoyed some good chemistry with Derick Brassard during the playoffs, but Brassard left the Islanders during the off-season signing a free agent deal with the Arizona Coyotes. Rookies Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and Otto Koivula are internal candidates along with veterans like Leo Komarov, Andrew Ladd, and Michael Dal Colle.
Whoever plays on his left and right side, Pageau is excited for the possibilities.
“We don’t know what the lines are going to be exactly,” said Pageau. “There’s one thing for sure and that there’s a lot of depth in the organization and there’s so many good forwards, some young players and guys that were on the team, so I just think that it’s going to be fun. I have one job to do and that’s to play the best that I can.”
For Pageau And The Islanders, Every Game Will Feel Like A Playoff Game:
After a brief ten-day training camp, the Islanders will begin the regular season with a pair of games against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 14th and 16th before the home opener against the Boston Bruins on January 18th. With the NHL going to realigned divisions for this season to cut down on travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Islanders will be playing in the East Division and will face each team eight times.
Having a player like Pageau, who can do a little bit of everything, right from the start in a season where every game will be like a playoff game is going to help the Islanders immensely. And for Pageau, it’s a chance for him to show that what he contributed last season after the trade was just the beginning.
“I really want to show the player that I am and that is day in day out bring my 110 percent,” said Pageau. “I want to show that for a full season and for playoffs again. That’s our goal. We want to go again in the playoffs and I want to be part of the team and obviously every night maybe not scoring goals but by just putting my heart on the ice every night.”
When the Islanders acquired Butch Goring at the trading deadline in 1980, he became known as “the missing piece” to the team’s Stanley Cup puzzle and he was part of all four Islanders championship teams from 1980 to 1983. As the Islanders kept winning playoff series last season, one began to wonder if Pageau was the missing piece for the current Islanders. The Islanders came up a bit short, but there’s no downplaying just how important Jean-Gabriel Pageau was to that playoff run and how important he will be to the team this season and in future seasons.
It didn’t take long after the trade to see a lot of “Pageau 44” jerseys in the stands and you will certainly see a lot more of them once fans are allowed to attend games at Nassau Coliseum. Last season was an appetizer in terms of what Pageau brings to the team. The main course is still to come and the Islanders can taste it.