Of all the things that came out of the end of the Ottawa Senators season, perhaps the most surprising, if not shocking, aspect was the popularity of Senators’ rookie centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Granted, the youngster had a lot of things in his favour 1) He is from Ottawa; 2) He played in and was drafted from the Gatineau Olympiques and 3) He plays the type of game that fans can get behind.
However, more than anything, the planets had to align perfectly (for him) in order to even see him in an Ottawa uniform. The vast array of injuries to the likes of Mike Hoffman, the poor play of Guillaume Latendresse, the inability of Mark Stone to make an impact in his audition all had to happen in order to see Pageau even get to make his debut.
What he did in taking the ball and running with it is the stuff of Hollywood legend. For all the things that had to go in his favour, there were just as many factors counting against him. He is small by NHL standards, a first year pro who was a 4th round pick (96th overall) just two summers ago, and was the Senators 5th forward selected in that draft. At the beginning of the season it was debated in the Senators organization whether he would even play at the Pro level or would be returned to Chicoutimi as an over-ager. He wasn’t even guaranteed a spot in Binghamton, and with the lockout players in the AHL he might have been an East Coast Leaguer.
Through it all, you never heard boo from him. He let his play do the talking, and worked his way up the pecking order and when his chance came, he seized the opportunity and made it impossible for Paul MacLean to take him out of the lineup, even in the playoffs and with the return of Jason Spezza.
While other lines struggled at times, the line of Pageau, Erik Condra and Colin Greening was the most consistent and dependable until they were (inexplecably, to me) split up in the last three games of the Pittsburgh series. His hat trick in game 4 of the playoff series against the Habs and the chanting of Pageau while mocking the Canadiens’ “OLE, OLE, OLE” chant was probably one of the top 3 moments of the entire season in Ottawa, if not the top.
In fact, in the Ottawa Sun season wrap-up poll, Pageau’s popularity was on display as he was voted the Senators best young player, ahead of the likes of Robin Lehner, Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg. Whether or not Pageau will be able to stick as a full-time member of the Senators next season is still to be determined. There are lots of young pups chomping at the bit to make an impact, and not a ton of open jobs. The side of the road is littered with players who are flashes in the pan, and made a big first impression only to fade into obscurity. The city and the Senators fan base will not soon forget the remarkable impact that he had in such a short time at the end of the season.
Truth be told, I don’t think Pageau-Mania is over just yet.