Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY Sports
Brendan Lemieux, the son of Claude, turned heads with bone-crunching hits at the Penticton Young Stars tournament in 2015. He continued to impress with his truculent style at Winnipeg Jets main camp and into the preseason, nearly breaking camp with Winnipeg in his final season of junior eligibility. This year an older, more-mature Lemieux is looking to land a full-time NHL job.
The gritty young winger is thoughtful, massive and gifted, but he faces a ton of competition. In addition to Lemieux the Jets have at least eight other wingers competing for just four bottom-six wing jobs, including: Adam Lowry, Alex Burmistrov, Kyle Connor, Mark Dano, Quentin Howden, Shawn Matthias, Brandon Tanev and Chris Thorburn. Lemieux believes he can bring something a little bit different to the table though. He’s convinced that he’ll have an inside track on breaking camp with Winnipeg if the Jets decide they need a hard-hitting presence on the wing.
“They’re going to have to need a guy like me,” Lemieux said on Friday, handicapping his chances, “because there’s a lot of skill, we have a really deep prospect pool and for a guy like me, I’m a very specific type of player, and they don’t have a lot of that.
“So if that’s what they’re looking to bring in this year,” Lemieux continued, “then I just have to be at my best, and I know I have a good chance of being that guy.”
The 20-year-old American-born winger has been consistent and solidly productive throughout his junior career. Last season he played for both the Windsor Spitfires and the Barrie Colts and managed 64 points in 45 games. He also finished the season with 65 penalty minutes and has generally been a player who spends a few minutes in the box every game. That’s often the price of playing a physical, pestering game.
“Being a guy that can spend a fair share of time in the box, finding that fine line is important,” Lemieux said. “It just depends on what your team plays like, what kind of discipline your team has, what kind of response you want from your team as a whole and then you as an individual.”
That’s sort of the rub here. The Jets have taken more than their fair share of penalties over the years, in fact they lead the entire NHL in penalties taken over the past three seasons. It’s now a coincidence that Winnipeg has also permitted the second most 4-on-5 goals against over the same time frame. Winnipeg’s penchant for undisciplined play has – along with shoddy goaltending throughout the Ondrej Pavelec era – been a crucial factor in sabotaging a club that is traditionally a formidable opponent at even strength.
Lemieux believes that he can play a more disciplined brand of hockey, that he can play with an edge without stepping over the line and leaving his team short-handed. He thinks he began to moderate his game last season.
On Friday, Lemieux explained at length that when he was in Barrie, he was playing close to 30 minutes a game in all situations. When he joined the Spitfires though, his minutes were scaled back and he wasn’t counted on to kill penalties. The rate at which he took penalties dropped precipitously.
“I had more energy, which makes it easier to keep a cool head,” Lemieux explained, “and also you’re on the ice less, so your chances of taking a penalty are (slimmer).”
Still, Lemieux knows the style the Jets play and he thinks he can fit in seamlessly.
“The Jets are a fast paced team, they’re a team that is willing to take good penalties,” Lemieux said. “They’re a team that is going to skate hard and be hard on the forecheck and that’s my game. I’m an F1 that turns his brains off – as they say – and can just chase guys down and make it hard on the first defenseman to the get the puck. That’s my job, that’s my role and I’m looking forward to getting under guys skin and play my game.
Now it’s just about getting started. Lemieux will have to jump over a vast variety of hurdles – namely the eight other contenders for a bottom-six wing spot – which makes every chance he gets to impress important. Even an exhibition game in a pre-preseason Young Stars tournament.
“Every night is a big night for a guy who doesn’t have a
for-sure job,” Lemieux laughed on Friday.