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Islanders fans, and teammates, quickly learned to appreciate Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the New York Islanders against

Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the New York Islanders against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six at Nassau Coliseum on May 26, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was an unscientific Twitter poll posted by a procrastinating hockey columnist on Wednesday afternoon, but the result was telling.

Question: Who is your favorite Islanders center?

Three of the options were popular, homegrown players, one of whom hours earlier had scored in overtime to win Game 2 of a second-round playoff series against the Bruins.

But Mathew Barzal, Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson all trailed by a wide margin to Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a guy who was born, raised and played in the NHL in the Ottawa area until arriving on Long Island in a trade a mere 15 months ago.

With 12,000 fans expected at Nassau Coliseum for Game 3 on Thursday night, it marked only the fourth time he had played before a Coliseum crowd of more than 10,000 as an Islander.

And yet he already is a fan favorite, a testament to his grit and his utilitarian skills, which are best appreciated by watching him on a regular basis.

Pageau does a little bit of everything and can play with anyone, a nice fit for an Islanders team that gets by more with depth and versatility than star power.

Through the first eight games this postseason, Pageau was tied with Anthony Beauvillier for the team lead with nine points, and he led the team in plus/minus at plus-6.

Pageau first endeared himself to fans in his debut last February against the Rangers when he scored a goal and got into a fight with Jacob Trouba.

"‘He’s made a pretty big impact right from Day One," Nelson said before Game 3. "I think everybody remembers his first couple of days here, when he stepped up, dropped the mitts, scored a big goal against the Rangers. From then on, he’s been a big part of our team."

While Pageau did not get much chance to bond in person with Islanders fans over the past year, the "bubble" playoff format last summer game him plenty of time to bond with teammates in Toronto and Edmonton.

Now he is fully integrated and again showing his adaptability by centering a line with this year’s two big trade-deadline acquisitions, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.

Coach Barry Trotz said Palmieri and Pageau have a lot in common and are a natural pair.

"They raise their game [in the playoffs]," Trotz said. "They’re not afraid of getting involved. They’re not afraid of contact. No one ever likes to get hit, no one ever likes all that, but they actually, I think, both quietly really enjoy the battle, which is a great quality.

"I think that’s why a guy like ‘Pager’ has had success in the playoffs, because he loves the challenge of that moment of battling you, and he’s got a little bit of a chip on the shoulder, if you will, maybe because he’s not the biggest guy [at 5-10, 180 pounds], and I think ‘Palms’ has the same.

"I know when he played against us that’s the thing that I liked about ‘Palms,’ is he had a little bit of that edge, especially when you tried to be hard on him, and that’s playoff hockey."

Said Palmieri: '‘Pager’ has been great. Obviously playing against him for all these years, you know what type of player he is and how effective he is, and I think we’ve started to develop some chemistry, and I think our games complement each other well."

They are not likely to be long-term linemates.

While Pageau signed a six-year, $30 million contract shortly after being acquired, Palmieri was a free agent to be when he arrived from the Devils, and he remains one, so the Long Island native could well just be passing through here.

For now, that is enough. Come autumn, Trotz will find other wings to assign to Pageau’s line, and he figures to adjust quickly to playing with them, too.

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