Jean-Gabriel Pageau is relishing his second opportunity to make a first impression with the Islanders after playing just seven games with the team before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to pause its season on March 12.
The unwanted hiatus has resulted in an unintended benefit for Pageau as gets to participate in a formal training camp with the Islanders before the start of a best-of-five qualifying series against the Panthers on Aug. 1.
“It’s a huge benefit, for sure,” Pageau said on Saturday. “It gets me more time to spend with the guys to get to know them a little more. Usually, practices get shorter and shorter as the season goes on.”
“I think anybody that got traded at the deadline for any team in this tournament, I think they’re going to benefit from it,” coach Barry Trotz said. “If you ever want to learn about your teammates’ personalities, the organization, there’s no better time than this time.”
The Islanders acquired Pageau from his hometown Ottawa Senators, where he had spent nearly seven seasons to start his NHL career, at the trade deadline on Feb. 24 to anchor the third line and promptly signed him to a six-year, $30 million extension. Now, the Islanders are finally hoping to take advantage of their depth at center with Casey Cizikas fully healed from a lacerated left leg that forced him to miss the final 13 games before the season was paused.
Cizikas centers the invaluable, identity-setting fourth line with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson are centering the top two lines.
“It’s huge to have depth down the middle,” Barzal said. “We can push the pace. Each line brings a little different game. Hopefully, it makes it tough on teams.”
Pageau, who had 24 goals and 16 assists in 60 games for the Senators, scored in each of his first two games with the Islanders. But he was held without a point in the next five and the Islanders were 0-3-4 with him in the lineup.
“We lost seven games in a row before the virus came out but I don’t think we were playing bad hockey at all,” linemate Derick Brassard said. “It was really close. We lost Pelly [defenseman Adam Pelech on Jan. 2], that really hurt, and we had Casey missing for a few games. Now, it’s like a fresh start. We’re looking forward to getting Pager’s first win as an Islander. Hopefully, we do it quick.”
Pageau’s acquisition did allow Brassard and Josh Bailey — both used as the third-line center during the season — to settle into more comfortable roles on the wing.
Brassard and Pageau have a natural chemistry as former Senators’ teammates who both grew up in the Ottawa area. Both went back to their home city during the season’s pause, with Brassard moving in with Pageau and his wife.
When the two returned to Long Island, Pageau lived at Brassard’s residence before getting his own place across the street.
“When you are good friends off the ice, it helps on the ice,” Pageau said. “He’s paying attention to the details and he helps me a lot, too. It’s a good feeling, not only about our line.”
Now, Trotz just needs to settle on a third member of Pageau’s line.
“We’re looking for some chemistry,” Trotz said.
Tom Kuhnhackl was on the wing for most of Saturday’s scrimmage at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow with rookie Kieffer Bellows also taking a few shifts. Michael Dal Colle was in that spot for the start of training camp. Ross Johnston, Andrew Ladd, Leo Komarov and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom might also be candidates.