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The Winnipeg Jets are a team reknowned for their flash.
Brendan Lemieux’s chief contribution to the mix is supposed to have a greasier edge, and Tuesday night was the 22-year-old left-winger’s first chance to show what he could bring.
Lemieux, slotting in on the club’s fourth line with centre Jack Roslovic and right-winger Mathieu Perreault as a replacement for rookie Kristian Vesalainen, chipped in with one hit, one takeaway and two blocked shots in 6:01 of ice time in Winnipeg’s 5-4 overtime loss to the visiting Edmonton Oilers.
Vesalainen, meanwhile, spent his first game in the press box after putting up one assist in five outings, averaging 6:50 of ice time. He was hardly noticeable some nights, as 19-year-olds often are when first exposed to the rigours of the NHL.
Lemieux, a third-year pro, has been tested at the NHL and AHL levels.
He tallied one goal in nine games with the Jets last season, playing the bulk of the 2017-18 season in the AHL, registering 19 goals, 43 points and 170 penalty minutes in 51 games with the Manitoba Moose. Surely now, with the departure of winger Marko Dano to the Colorado Avalanche via waivers, Lemieux’s path to regular work looks much smoother.
“I think it’s the same as in the pre-season and in training camp, just practising here and taking it shift by shift and minute by minute,” Lemieux said, following Winnipeg’s morning skate Tuesday. “I’ve got two highly skilled linemates I’m excited about playing with. It should be fun.”
The Jets believe Lemieux is capable of displaying a multi-dimensional skill set in the bigs, but head coach Paul Maurice isn’t ready to pile expectations on Lemieux.
“It’s a tough one, because you don’t want to put offensive pressure on a guy. But he’s got some hands there that you don’t see at first,” Maurice said. “He gets around the ice fine, powerful stride. He will be physical on his checks and he’s not getting to the scrum late, he usually starts it, so he’s around it. But there’s some hands there, and some quickness with it, so we want that physical edge that he has. We have a number of very skilled players, fast players, and we have (Adam) Lowry, (Brandon) Tanev. (Blake) Wheeler plays that game, too, he plays such a physical game.
“We think, with that, he can add and give us some depth on the grind, but There’s hands there, too. You know what? To be honest with you, we’re not sure where that ceiling is or what that definition of Brendan as a player is yet.”
The veteran example of Perreault and Wheeler, who are constantly in motion, is the preferred model for Lemieux or any young player learning the ropes.
“We would love for Brendan to get to Mathieu Perreault’s tenacity,” Maurice said. “That’s something that’s learned. Almost every player, and we say the same about Nik Ehlers as we would say about Brendan and Kyle Connor, it takes them a while to realize they’re in and on it every shift — all night. That’s the mark of a pro. He’s got a different weight than Matty Perreault, clearly.”
Lemieux believes he’s a good fit with Perreault and Roslovic.
“Matty’s obviously a veteran, he can play up and down the lineup and he’s got high-end skill, and Rosie’s one of the higher-end skilled guys on the team who was obviously dominant in the American League last year. And when he came up at the end of the year, he was a heck of a player for them in the playoffs,” Lemieux said. “It’s exciting, those are the kinds of guys I want to play with.
“Right-handed centremen suit my game really well, and now it’s just about me establishing my game and it looks nothing like what theirs is. But it’s doing that, so they can play theirs to the highest level and sometimes, that’s (what) sandpaper and skill looks like on a line.”
Vesalainen’s introduction to North America is in its early stage. Maurice likes components of the rookie’s game, but he hasn’t shown a complete package yet.
“He has some physical strength to control the puck, he just hasn’t learned to do it as often as we’d like him to,” Maurice said.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.