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Brendan Lemieux has always played hockey with a bit of an edge, never afraid to mix it up when the going gets tough.
And so, perhaps it should come as no surprise the rugged 22-year-old winger, now about to begin his third full professional season, pulls no punches when discussing not being a full-time NHL player at this point in his young career. You could say that chip on his shoulder is staying with him off the ice as well.
Take, for example, his view of watching the Winnipeg Jets go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring before bowing out in the Western Conference final. A dream come true for someone in the organization, right?
“Would have loved to have been playing,” Lemieux said Friday following a skate at Bell MTS Iceplex. “At the end of the day, you want to be a part of it as a player. I’m a competitive person, so it’s not easy to watch, ever.”
Or, for example, his views on whether he can crack the roster this season.
“I really have no control over anything, I’m just worried about showing up every day and doing my job. At the end of the day, I think I’m ready. I want to make this team, but I don’t have much control over it. I’m just going to show up and do what I can when I can,” Lemieux said.
Lemieux certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, and he’s on record as saying in the past he has a unique kind of skill set that nobody else in the organization right now can bring to the table.
“I know I’m gonna play in the NHL for a long time. It’s just a matter of when,” Lemieux said.
There’s no doubt he’s got his work cut out for him to stick with the big club out of camp. Winnipeg’s forward group is deep, and Lemieux is also facing stiff competition from a number of other young prospects vying for work such as Nic Petan, Kristian Vesalainen and Mason Appleton and newcomers Nic Kerdiles, Dennis Everberg and Seth Griffith.
Lemieux said he isn’t losing any sleep over his situation, even if it’s not ideal.
“Right now, I’m just worried about my game and getting to where I feel comfortable for training camp and pre-season. I kind of let that stuff take care of itself. I’m not gonna try to play the guessing game with who’s in and who’s out with what changes have been made. I just worry about getting my game to where it needs to be, and if I’m called upon, it is what it is,” Lemieux said.
Lemieux, selected in the second round (31st overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, admits things haven’t exactly gone as planned so far.
“You spend three, four years worrying about making the NHL, looking at this and that and it doesn’t happen. After a while, you just get to the point where you worry about putting one foot in front of the other and let the outcome take care of itself,” he said.
Lemieux joined the Jets organization in 2015 as part of the Evander Kane trade, and got his first taste of the big stage last season. He dressed for nine games with Winnipeg and scored his first NHL goal. He was eventually returned to the AHL, where he set career highs with 19 goals and 24 assists in 51 regular-season games with the Manitoba Moose. That was a huge leap from his rookie season, when he had 12 goals and seven assists in 61 games.
“I think that came with a lot of opportunity, as well. My opportunity grew, and my numbers grew with it. I’ve always been able to produce offensively, and I have confidence in myself offensively. My whole overall game grew last year. I played my first NHL game, scored my first NHL goal, and that was all part of growing and getting to where I wanted to be. And now, it’s just about staying there and earning a full-time job,” Lemieux said.
Lemieux’s entry-level contract expires next summer. But the Colorado native, and son of former NHL star Claude Lemieux, insists he’s not worried about the future.
“No, I’m still young, I’m 22. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other, and really get myself in a position where my game’s where it needs to be for training camp. There’s no added pressure. I’ve got plenty of time,” Lemieux said. “I’m trying not to put too much thought into making the team out of camp. I don’t think it’s much of a change in mindset. You just want to focus on what you can do, and not worry too much about the outcome of any situation.”
Lemieux said his training took a big step in the summer of 2017 in terms of adding more quickness to his game, and he continued to focus on that during the off-season. But, one thing he might need to continue working on is his temper if he wants to stick with the Jets. Lemieux had 170 penalty minutes for the Moose last year, which included several misconducts where he simply lost his cool. That’s up from 130 minutes in his first season.
Lemieux said he’s matured, and credited former Jets centre Matt Hendricks with being a valuable mentor to him over the past year. The two often hung out together during off days.
“I’ve said it a million times, Hendy’s the best. It sucks he’s gone,” Lemieux said of the veteran centre, who signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Minnesota Wild this summer.
“I actually stole his apartment this year, he had a pretty cool place. So, I get reminded every morning that I love Hendy. I miss him, he’s a great guy, he helped me a lot. I’m definitely going to use a lot of the tools he helped give me. I’m sure we’ll be seeing him quite a bit. Hopefully we’ll have a few good battles.”
Should the Jets take another big run at hockey’s biggest prize next spring, Lemieux is hoping to be a big part of it.
“Obviously, it was electric around the city. It was pretty cool to see the city change like it did and get behind that team. It’s exciting for the future,” Lemieux said.
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