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Gritty Lemieux drops weight, adds speed

Power forward took steps during off-season to become stronger, faster, more resilient to injury

Brendan Lemieux is a 21-year-old who feels the need for speed — anything to accelerate his progress to the NHL.

In 2016-17, his debut as a pro, the results were mixed. He showed some good things (a gritty work ethic with a goal-scoring touch to accompany his well-known nasty streak), but a broken foot ruined his start and a major injury to his other foot (suffered on March 15, his birthday) served up an early end to his season.

In the off-season, the 6-1, 210-pound power forward wanted to redefine himself — to be lighter without sacrificing strength and more resilient to injury. The improvements did not come easily.

“There was a lot to do with staying healthy, but there were improvements that I wanted to make in my game,” Lemieux said after a Winnipeg Jets mini-camp workout at the Bell MTS Iceplex on Monday morning. “And, one of those was, the game’s getting fast, the game’s getting light, even for guys who are power forwards. Even for the guys who are physical, you still want to be quick.

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Brendan Lemieux is a 21-year-old who feels the need for speed — anything to accelerate his progress to the NHL.

In 2016-17, his debut as a pro, the results were mixed. He showed some good things (a gritty work ethic with a goal-scoring touch to accompany his well-known nasty streak), but a broken foot ruined his start and a major injury to his other foot (suffered on March 15, his birthday) served up an early end to his season.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Brendan Lemieux, who lost 10 pounds over the off-season, says he feels better than ever.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Brendan Lemieux, who lost 10 pounds over the off-season, says he feels better than ever.

In the off-season, the 6-1, 210-pound power forward wanted to redefine himself — to be lighter without sacrificing strength and more resilient to injury. The improvements did not come easily.

"There was a lot to do with staying healthy, but there were improvements that I wanted to make in my game," Lemieux said after a Winnipeg Jets mini-camp workout at the Bell MTS Iceplex on Monday morning. "And, one of those was, the game’s getting fast, the game’s getting light, even for guys who are power forwards. Even for the guys who are physical, you still want to be quick.

"And so I made it a goal of mine to lose some mass, some size I was carrying that I didn’t need. With that, I feel faster and got a little bit leaner and kinda take a different approach. Focus more on the cardio aspect of things, the endurance side of the game and the quickness side of the game."

Lemieux, who scored 12 times and finished with 19 points as a member of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose last season, went home to train in Orange County, Calif., and dropped more than 10 pounds as he prepped for 2017-18. He said he feels better than ever.

When training camp opens Friday morning at the Iceplex, Lemieux will be battling at least six other candidates for work on Winnipeg’s fourth line. Staying healthy is a priority. Last season, he was injured at the Young Stars pre-season rookie tournament in Penticton, B.C., and spent four weeks rehabbing his foot. Naturally, he was not in peak condition when he returned to the ice.

"I took four weeks off and it wasn’t the same for the next month," Lemieux said. "Not being in the greatest of shape coming into the season, having to deal with learning a whole new system, it wasn’t easy. It took time and then finally getting into stride after Christmas and feeling good about my game and where it was (going). Especially on a struggling team, it was hard."

He also had zero time to make a training camp impression on Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who was serving as an assistant coach for Team Europe at the World Cup.

But Maurice had seen this movie before.

"That’s all part of the maturation process," Maurice said. "You know, (defenceman) Josh Morrissey did the exact same thing — he spent a year and put on a lot of weight (and) realized that the speed is No. 1 in importance in the National (Hockey) League. You’ve gotta be able to skate and get there. So he’s leaned down a little bit. I think we have two or three other guys that lifted weights, but that wasn’t the core of what they were doing, putting mass on. So he looks a little bit faster."

Lemieux prepped for the AHL grind and realized something unexpected.

"(I was) thinking that that’s a heavier, harder league to play in and that I’m going to need that size, that strength and power to be competing. But look around last year, there wasn’t much of that and I knew that I had to make some adjustments, and I’ve found in doing so, I feel just as strong, but I’m able to get to the puck quicker and make quicker plays."

One part of his game, the physical, agitator type who so closely resembles his dad and former NHLer Claude Lemieux, seems unlikely to change.

"I know I bring something they don’t have a lot of," said Lemieux, who led the Moose with 130 penalty minutes in 61 games. "I’m looking forward to the opportunity to show how that can help, and there’s a lot of teams in the league, especially teams that do well, with guys that bring a similar type of game that I bring. Even more now, with the rule changes, it can help to have a guy like that."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Read more by Mike Sawatzky.

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