Editorials

Mathew Barzal and Jean-Gabriel Pageau Playing Together Can Improve the Islanders

It is no secret that the Islanders offense has been holding them back this season. Logically, Islanders General Manager Lou Lamierello went out and acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators to add a much needed solid goal scorer to this Islanders team. On the downside, Pageau has notched two goals and a -6 rating in seven games before the temporary shutdown.

For his first few games, Pageau, a goal scorer, was not playing with adequate enough playmakers on his wings. Players such as Michael Dal Colle and Andrew Ladd are excellent on the forecheck and very hard workers, but they are just not the kind of players that can feed a top goal scorer the puck at a consistent level. It is clear Pageau needs a shake-up to truly find his game on the Island. In this article, we discuss an obscure, yet possible lineup change that could completely change the Islanders offense when hockey returns.

The Idea and its Benefits

It would not be a bad idea to have Jean-Gabriel Pageau play on the top line with Mathew Barzal. There is a startling conflict in the idea that both of them are centers, but a resolution to that will be explained later. Not only would having these two offensive juggernauts play together to benefit their numbers, but it could also completely change the productivity of the Islanders offense. Here are a couple reasons why this is a good idea.

Mathew Barzal is a superstar in the making. However, since his 85-point rookie season that earned himself a Calder Trophy and having the fortune of working with former Islanders captain John Tavares, his offensive production has plummeted drastically. Tavares was an elite scorer for the Islanders, and Barzal is one of the most creative playmakers in the National Hockey League.

However, Barzal has never really had a true sniper of a winger on his line to feed. While players like Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, and Jordan Eberle are good top-six players he has been rolled through the lineup with, none of them can put the puck in the back of the net enough to take full advantage of his crafty playmaking abilities. Barzal is an elite playmaker missing the most important thing- an elite scorer to compliment it.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau could potentially be the guy to fill this role. Pageau is the kind of player who has a nose for the net and that can consistently bury the puck in the slot. During most games, the Islanders prove that they have offensive creativity and out chance their opponent; it’s just a matter of putting pucks in the back of the net which the Islanders seem to struggle with. All of the Islanders’ top-six forwards are currently playmakers or power forwards, explaining the goal-scoring issue. Pageau can bring you the goal-scoring, so it is more than logical to put your franchise playmaker with a good scorer. There are some loopholes in this plan though, like who would take the center role and what the other lines would look like. Those issues can be addressed.

The Islanders’ Center Depth

Thankfully for the Islanders, they have some of the NHL’s best center depth at this point. Without this, the whole plan would crash and burn because it would be critical for both Barzal and Pageau to play center.

With Mathew Barzal and Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the same line, the Islanders have four potential centers left to fill three spots. This is never a bad thing.

Brock Nelson would most likely take the second-line center role, as he has been for most of this season. Nelson is a completely transformed player under Barry Trotz and has proven himself as a strong goal scorer that can be reliable on the second line of any good hockey team.

Anthony Beauvillier has played center in his career, and he could move there again. Beauvillier plays similarly to Barzal, but obviously on a much smaller scale. He is shifty and likes to skate with the puck to create plays, and can effectively lead the third line.

Derick Brassard, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, is another option to plug in at the third-line center. Despite his inconsistency, he is still a reliable player to plug into a roster as he is defensively responsible and has a nose for the net.

Lastly, Casey Cizikas is capable of continuing to center one of the best fourth lines in hockey. Cizikas has proven himself as one of the most underrated 200-foot players in the game and even notched 20 goals in his 2018-19 campaign. Cizikas is a physical player as well, and his complete game can allow him to be one of the league’s best bottom-six centers.

In conclusion, even if Pageau were to move up with Barzal, and assuming nobody is injured, the Islanders are set with their center depth to where they can put out a solid center for all four of their lines. This is critically important, and the Islanders have that luxury, allowing this plan to work.

So, who would play center on the first line?

If you look at the Islanders’ first line this season, which consists of Barzal, Lee, and Eberle, Mat Barzal has been the center, despite Anders Lee taking a lot of the faceoffs. Something similar can happen here.

One of Barzal’s main weaknesses is his faceoffs, as his percentage (41.6%) is very low among NHL stars; however, faceoffs are one of Pageau’s specialties, so Pageau can take the draws. But then you may ask yourself, why not just keep Pageau at center?

It is because Barzal is your franchise center. In most cases, centers skate the puck the most and create the most plays. This is where Barzal shines and is up there with players such as Connor McDavid and Aleksander Barkov in terms of carrying the puck and creating offense. Putting Barzal on the wing can limit his offensive potential as the Islanders are a disciplined team positionally, and Barzal simply wouldn’t be able to do as much with the puck if he was put on the wing.

The only downside of this plan is that Jean-Gabriel Pageau would have to adjust to playing on the wing, but we have seen players such as Beauvillier and Brassard do the same this past season, so why shouldn’t Pageau be able to do the same? Needless to say, if Pageau adjusts on the wing and he and Barzal build offensive chemistry, the Islanders’ first line can be lethal and their offensive stats can explode from where they are now.

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