There are just four days until the start of the 2021 NHL season and New York Islanders third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau still doesn’t know who he’s playing with.
The marquee acquisition at the 2020 trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators — who signed a six-year extension with the team — helped spark the Islanders to a run to the Eastern Conference Final, recording eight goals in 22 postseason games.
While he’s provided much-needed depth while bolstering the Islanders down the middle, Pageau entered this year’s abbreviated 10-day training camp working with different linemates every day.
Before star center Mathew Barzal agreed to terms on a three-year contract Saturday, Pageau was centering the Islanders’ first line flanked by Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee during their first scrimmages.
Also working with the likes of Leo Komarov and Michael Dal Colle, Pageau led a third line of youngsters Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows during Sunday morning’s scrimmage.
Wahlstrom, 20, and Bellows, 22, have made strong pushes to make the team out of camp ahead of opening night on Thursday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. With hopes of adding an offensive injection to an Islanders team predicated on defense, head coach Barry Trotz knew there was no better player to center the two with than Pageau.
“I think what I’m doing is we have a lot of people who have had some really good days and they’ve been pushing,” Trotz said. “With Bellows and Wahlstrom, we wanted to see what we could do from a more offensive side. With Pageau, he’s one of the smartest, most complete players in the league and we put the two kids with him and they had a really good day.”
Trotz added that the line provided “some grit and spit with some speed.”
“Going to have to make some decisions in the next day or two,” Trotz said. “We know what we have with some of the older guys, we want to make sure we know what we have in the younger guys.”
While his linemates remain up in the air, Pageau continues to just go with it.
“They’re definitely two really smart players,” Pageau said of Wahlstrom and Bellows. “They have a really good skill set. It’s hard to tell who I’m going to start with. I’ve been on a different line every day, even when Barzal came back… [Wahlstrom and Bellows] have done really good to adapt… Every player is pushing to be in the lineup and that’s a good thing.”
Should Trotz and the Islanders go with that youthful approach on the third line in an attempt to spark the club’s offense, Pageau will be looked upon as the guy to help Wahlstrom and Bellows navigate through their first full-time seasons in the pros.
Such a task isn’t easy, but Trotz sees Pageau as a leader, one similar to the industrial veteran, Josh Bailey.
“He’s very competitive, a highly-intelligent two-way player, and his skill set is underrated,” Trotz said of Pageau. “One of the things, and it’s unfortunate, sometimes I keep putting him in a situation where he has new linemates a lot. It’s probably the same kind of trust I have in Josh Bailey in terms of a highly intelligent player who can play multiple positions.
“You can go to those guys, lean on those guys, and they’re a huge part of what you do.”