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Brendan Lemieux received a huge vote of confidence from his employer Sunday and he’ll likely get a chance to demonstrate his gratitude sooner rather than later.
All signs point to Lemieux making his season debut with the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday when the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit to Bell MTS Place. Game time is 7 p.m.
It’s the second of six straight contests at home for Winnipeg (3-2-0).
On Monday morning, Jets’ depth forward Marko Dano was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche, a day after he was placed on waivers for the purpose of sending him the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. Winnipeg made the move to free up a spot for Nic Petan — back from an NHL-approved leave of absence due to the death of his father — on the roster.
Dano, just 23 and a former first-round pick, wasn’t going to sneak through waivers. But it was a high-risk asset-management decision the Jets took because they believe in the attributes of Lemieux, 22. Either he or Kristian Vesalainen could have been sent to the Moose without being exposed; Petan is not waiver-exempt.
‘He’s a strong man and he’s got good speed. And he has no problem getting into the heavy areas to make a play and he’s got some finish. He scores goals in practice, he gets (the puck) off his stick really well’ – Jets head coach Paul Maurice, on Brendan Lemieux
Lemieux is expected to replace Vesalainen on the fourth line against Connor McDavid and the Oilers (1-2-0). He took line rushes in practice Monday morning with centre Jack Roslovic and right-winger Mathieu Perreault.
Vesalainen and Petan would be the extra forwards.
“(It’s a show of support) not just myself but for (Petan) and (Vesalainen), all the guys that are kind of on the left side in that bottom spot. There’s three of us on two-ways, so they were looking to give us a little more responsibility,” said Lemieux. “It’s a good opportunity for us, and we’re looking forward to proving them right.
“If I do play (against Edmonton), it’ll be a good opportunity and I’m excited about that.”
Lemieux, 6-1, 210 pounds, was recalled for a nine-game stint last season, scoring his first-ever NHL goal in a lopsided late-October victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s also played 117 games over three seasons with the Moose, scoring 33 goals and adding 32 assists while serving 306 minutes in penalties.
The former Buffalo Sabres’ second-round selection, acquired by the Jets in the February 2015 Evander Kane trade, plays a rugged, aggressive game but has plenty of skill as well, scoring 100 goals in his last three junior campaigns in the Ontario Hockey League.
“He’s a strong man and he’s got good speed. And he has no problem getting into the heavy areas to make a play and he’s got some finish. He scores goals in practice, he gets (the puck) off his stick really well,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice.
“For him and the role… we’re still not sure where he eventually settles in. He might be the heavy guy with two skilled players with speed that he plays with, or a grinding, checking role. We’re still learning about him and we’re still learning about his game.”
Meanwhile, Dano looked like a kid on Christmas morning Monday just outside the Jets dressing room, barely an hour after receiving word he was headed to the Central Division-rival Avalanche.
Last season, he was regularly a healthy scratch in Winnipeg, playing just 23 games with limited fourth-line minutes, scoring twice and adding an assist.
The Slovakian winger said he’s excited to join a new team but politely requested some time to join his new organization before he does interviews. A spokesman with Colorado said the team is in the midst of getting his immigration paperwork in order.
The Avalanche begin a four-game road trip in New York against the Rangers Tuesday.
“Hockey players want to play and he’s been a great soldier here,” Maurice said. “He didn’t get in the lineup very often but he was good to have around and a good safety valve for us. We just got to a point we had some players we think either were even with him or ahead of him on the depth chart, and didn’t want to see him go through that again.
“He gets an opportunity to go and play, and good for him. He’s earned it.”
Dano is a former first-round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets (27th overall in 2013). He had short stays in Columbus and Chicago before being dealt to Winnipeg for Andrew Ladd in February 2016.
He suited up for just 82 games with the Jets, netting 10 goals and 22 points.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).