Nothing small about play of Jean-Gabriel Pageau

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau hopes to be the next in a long line of diminutive forwards who have made a giant impact in the NHL. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is the face of the Gatineau Olympiques. He led the team in scoring last year with 79 points in 67 games, helped them reach the QMJHL finals, and in just 14 games this season, the Gatineau native is third in the QMJHL in goal scoring with 17 markers. Yet, despite his success and continued progression, the Olympiques’ captain was not ranked by Central Scouting heading into last year’s NHL Entry Draft.

Instead of feeling bitter, the shifty center took it in-stride, and traveled to Minnesota for the draft anyway.

“[Not being ranked] did not affect me,” Pageau said. “I went to the draft with no expectation. I was going there just to have a good trip with my parents and friends, and finally my agent told me that I had a chance to go to Ottawa.”

His agent had spoke with the Senators prior to the draft, but Pageau himself did not speak to any teams, so hearing his name announced when the Senators made the 96th pick of the draft was more than a surprise.

“It was a great feeling. You cannot compare that feeling to anything,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Of course, Pageau did not go unrecognized by Central Scouting due to a lack of talent. In terms of raw skill, he is near the top of the QMJHL, but listed at just 5’9 and 164 lbs, he is also one of the smallest players in the league.

That said, while his diminutive stature is hard to ignore, so is his skill set; he has above-average offensive instincts, which combined with his speed, playmaking abilities, and ability to play through traffic, makes him one of the QMJHL’s most dangerous forwards. And though he was primarily regarded as a playmaker last season, he’s becoming known for his goal-scoring this season.

“There’s a big difference between NHL shot and junior. So I work a lot on my shot,” said Pageau, explaining that was one of the things the Senators brass told him to work on following his brief stint with the team during training camp.

He is also an all-situation type player. He plays on Gatineau’s top offensive line, top power-play unit, and more often than not, is on the ice to begin a penalty kill, a skill that he has been developing over the past few seasons. While he is by no means an elite penalty killer just yet, teams need to be aware when he is on the ice. He has just one shorthanded goal this season, but his willingness to block shots and his explosive speed can often lead to a breakaway going the other way – something that happened on November 4th against the PEI Rocket for his first shorthanded marker of the year.

However, he does realize the importance of killing penalties, and getting scoring chances while shorthanded isn’t something he seeks; rather, he would describe himself as opportunistic.

“I think that defense is [just as important] as offense, so on the [penalty-kill] I play defense first, and if I have the opportunity, for sure I’m going to go try and score.”

Surprisingly enough, as skilled as he is on the ice, hockey wasn’t always the obvious choice for Pageau. Growing up, with the change of seasons, he alternated between baseball and hockey, explaining that he was probably equally as good at both sports, but of course, as he got older, was forced to make a decision on which he would continue to pursue.

“I think, until now, I chose the right one,” he joked.

“I have fun with [hockey], it’s my passion, and I love playing. That’s why I’m happy to wake up every day to come to the rink to practice and work hard to get better and better.”

And if he wasn’t convinced that he made the right choice a few years ago, he surely was this past September 23rd when he dressed for a NHL exhibition game against a team he admired growing up, the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, when he speaks of his time at the Senators training camp, skating alongside veterans like Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, his face lights up.

“The players were really nice with the young players. There’s no difference between the 35 year old players and the 18 year olds,” he said, referring to the unity he noticed in the locker room. “They [gave] us good tips and [shared] their experience.”

Since returning to Gatineau, Pageau has taken the league by storm; he currently sits 17th in league scoring despite playing at least ten less games than most ahead of him. He was named the QMJHL’s second star of the month for October, the second star of the week ending October 30th, and was even named the CHL Player of the Week last year for the week ending April 17th.

But there is one more honor the Senators draft pick would love: being invited to the Canadian World Junior training camp.

“I hope they’re going to invite me,” he said. “I think I could help them for sure.”

“But I’ll control what I control.”

While undoubtedly he possesses the skill to play in an ultra-competitive tournament like the World Junior Championships, one factor that may work against him once again is his size. And while he dedicates a lot of his time off the ice trying to get stronger, he feels the size issue can be overstated at times.

“I think there’s good examples in the NHL [of smaller guys],” he said, citing Montreal’s Brian Gionta and Philadelphia’s Danny Briere. “There’s small players with every team, and I believe and I hope that I’m going to be the next one. I don’t get affected [by] people always saying you’re too small [and] not strong enough – I work hard to get stronger so I’m not afraid of that.”