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Brendan Lemieux has been known to walk a fine line — and occasionally cross it — when it comes to physical play.
But Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice believes better discipline is among a number of improvements the 22-year-old has made this year.
“All parts of his game are stronger. He’s physically stronger, so he drives a little faster. Gets off the wall. He’s got a real interesting mix there of belligerence, maybe, and a really quick release and a good shot. He can make some plays. For Brendan, in order to play his game, you have to be in really good shape. And I think he’s worked hard to get to that. He’s there,” Maurice said Wednesday.
Lemieux has racked up 300 penalty minutes over the past two seasons with the Manitoba Moose, and spent 21 minutes in an NHL sin bin last year when he played the first nine games of his career with the Jets. Keeping his cool is seen as one of the keys to breaking through at the next level.
He’s got one pre-season scrap under his belt already, but is proving to be more than just a proverbial shift disturber.
“He’s more under control on the bench, but most guys after a while are, right? They pick their spots. I think he’s been focused on just playing the game, and that’s really important. Because he can’t be in the penalty box for undue reasons,” Maurice said. “But, he is going to agitate the game in a positive way. Being an agitator alone doesn’t keep you in the NHL. It just makes you a pain in the ass for both teams. You’ve got to be able to do something. And he’s got some game.”
Maurice said, like all young players, Lemieux is still learning about playing the game at the right pace.
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The Jets reduced their roster by seven players Wednesday, releasing goalie Ken Appleby, defencemen Charles-David Beaudoin, Simon Bourque, Jacob Cederholm and Luke Green, and forwards Tye McGinn and Matt Ustaski. They will report to Moose training camp, which began Wednesday with medicals.
Of those players, only McGinn and Ustaski saw action in a pre-season Jets game, as both suited up Monday night in Calgary.
Winnipeg has 42 players in camp — 25 forwards, 13 defencemen and four goalies. They are expected to cut down to their 23-man opening-night roster this weekend.
Maurice said several young players who were in Wednesday night’s game in Minnesota will also play the final pre-season game tonight in Winnipeg to help settle the final roster decisions.
“Really important. You’ll see (Wednesday), we’ll run different lines than we’ll run (Thursday) in kind of those bottom-six spots. And we’ll do it during the game, we’ll move players around and see how they take to the adjustment. Everybody wants to play with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Nobody gets to do that other than Kyle (Connor), and he’s earned it. So, they’ve got to find that combination and be part of creating it,” Maurice said.
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Former Jets defenceman Mark Stuart is back with the organization. The 34-year-old has been hired to be the team services co-ordinator for the Moose.
Stuart was part of the Atlanta Thrashers when they moved to Winnipeg in 2011. He spent the first six seasons with the Jets, but was bought out of the final year of his contract following the 2016-17 season. He played last year in Germany with the Mannheim Eagles.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.