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This article was published 4/2/2019 (625 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Brendan Lemieux's game is rough around the edges, there's no mystery about that.
But adapting that grinding style for success in the NHL may have seemed like a bit of a long shot when the 22-year-old Winnipeg Jets left-winger was suspended for two games after an illegal hit to the head of Florida's Vincent Trocheck on Nov. 2 in Helsinki. The resulting match penalty led to a power-play goal by Keith Yandle, the eventual game-winner in a 4-2 triumph by the Panthers.
Earlier in the game, a power play generated by Lemieux's high-sticking minor on Troy Brouwer resulted in a Mike Hoffman goal that tied the game 2-2.
"I think in a lot of people’s minds it was a huge deal, but it was a learning experience I think," said Lemieux following practice Monday afternoon. "There’s penalties every game… As far as the hit goes, it was unfortunate to get suspended, it cost us the game — the five-minute penalty — but it was the circumstance of the penalty and the hit, all in the same game.
"I mean, it was a perfect storm for a disaster but it’s one of 82 (games) and we know our line has helped the team win more than one game. As long as I’m doing the things I can do, drawing penalties is a big piece of my game that I pride myself on doing well, I think we’ve done a pretty good job as a line this year, myself included."
Lemieux and fellow fourth-liners Andrew Copp and Mason Appelton have been getting attention for the all the right reasons lately and a lot of that has to do with Lemieux.
He started the regular season as a low priority for head coach Paul Maurice, generating between 4 1/2 and eight minutes of playing time most nights. But since early this month, there has been a significant uptick. Lemieux broke the 10-minute mark in games against the Nashville Predators, which included his second multi-goal game of the season, and the Boston Bruins before establishing a career high with 13:33 in Saturday's 9-3 decision over the visiting Anaheim Ducks.
Lemieux's ability to fine tune his approach without eliminating his essence as an agitator has made all the difference.
"It was going to happen," said Maurice. "The event itself, the two penalties he took (in Helsinki), based on the style of play he has, you knew that was happening at some point. They key was that it didn't happen six weeks later. That he could learn from it, still play his game and be physical and confrontational if we needed him to be, without running around and taking penalties and crossing that line, not having the ability to control himself. The opposite has been true. He plays a clean, hard game. So that's development.
"Every player has a different skill set. He has a unique one. He's a real physical, hard-hitting, grinding guy. But he's learned. He gave himself a chance to get back in the lineup, so good for him."
Lemieux plans to stay true to himself and the approach that got him to the NHL.
"You’re going to step over the line sometimes," he said. "But that’s the price you pay for playing that game and that’s why it’s important and a lot of guys aren’t willing to do it. You look at the teams that win, there’s always a couple of guys that play that way. That’s why I’m on this team, to play my style, and I think my teammates and my coaching staff and the organization as a whole understand that’s the line I’m going to play on."
His seven goals, often the result of deflections and wraparounds, are tied with Adam Lowry and Jack Roslovic for the ninth-best totals on the team.
"I don’t think I think about how the goals look," said Lemieux. "I just worry about finding them, whichever way they come. I know I’m not going to score many pretty ones in my career. Five feet from the net is my office, I worked my whole life to be good at. The more I find in there the better I feel about my game."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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