November 20, 2017

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Lemieux ready, willing... and Maurice confident he's able tonight

BORIS MINKEVICH / FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Brendan Lemieux's game bears a striking similarity to his famous father, former NHLer Claude Lemieux.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / FREE PRESS FILES

Brendan Lemieux's game bears a striking similarity to his famous father, former NHLer Claude Lemieux.

Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice is hoping Brendan Lemieux can provide something the Jets are sorely lacking.

Lemieux, a 21-year-old left-winger making his NHL debut tonight against the visiting Minnesota Wild (7 p.m., TSN3, TSN 1290), has an edginess to his game that bears a striking similarity to his famous father, former NHLer Claude Lemieux.

"Just his game, he’s an intense, kind of grindy, maybe flirting with that new-age power forward," Maurice said of the younger Lemieux following this morning's pre-game skate. "He’s got a good, heavy shot, really good stick around the net, doesn’t mind heading to the front of the net.

"He’s one of the very few young players, I guess Brandon Tanev, possibly, that comes in and is not (here) on a pure skill, kind of outside, perimeter game. He plays a more physical game, a more driving game. We have lots of room for that here, so if he can get in there and, young players make mistakes, but get that energy level right tonight and not cross that line, but be a good physical presence, it should be a good opportunity for him. "

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Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice is hoping Brendan Lemieux can provide something the Jets are sorely lacking.

Lemieux, a 21-year-old left-winger making his NHL debut tonight against the visiting Minnesota Wild (7 p.m., TSN3, TSN 1290), has an edginess to his game that bears a striking similarity to his famous father, former NHLer Claude Lemieux.

"Just his game, he’s an intense, kind of grindy, maybe flirting with that new-age power forward," Maurice said of the younger Lemieux following this morning's pre-game skate. "He’s got a good, heavy shot, really good stick around the net, doesn’t mind heading to the front of the net.

"He’s one of the very few young players, I guess Brandon Tanev, possibly, that comes in and is not (here) on a pure skill, kind of outside, perimeter game. He plays a more physical game, a more driving game. We have lots of room for that here, so if he can get in there and, young players make mistakes, but get that energy level right tonight and not cross that line, but be a good physical presence, it should be a good opportunity for him. "

The second-year pro will have his dad, mom Deborah, his sister and his girlfriend in the Bell MTS Place stands for his first game in the bigs.

"Well, I think I’m here for a reason," said Lemieux, who had three goals, five points and nine penalty minutes in four games with the AHL's Manitoba Moose before being recalled as an injury replacement Tuesday. "So, they want to see my game and that’s what I’m going to bring. I mean I know what I do well. I like to stick to my strengths and play a simple, hard to play against game. Bring some sandpaper. And if the puck’s there and I can put it in, I’m gonna put it in. That’s kinda the idea.

Originally, Lemieux was tabbed to make his NHL debut on Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets but Brandon Tanev was cleared to play, so Lemieux watched from the press box.

"Early in the week I thought I was playing so there was a lot of emotions that came on," said Lemieux. "It’s probably a blessing in disguise because I was a little too excited. This hasn’t gotten too-too real yet. I’ve had a little bit of time to get more comfortable. Obviously I’m looking forward to it. I know there’s going to be some nerves but tonight’s about trying to contribute and showing what I can do and trying to get a win tonight."

Naturally, he'll depend on dad, who played 21 seasons in the NHL, for guidance and support.

"He was excited," said Lemieux. "He just wants me to stay calm. He reminded me that I can play in this league and that I belong and just to stay comfortable and stay calm. He knows there’s a lot of nerves that come into play in that first game. Just keep your eye on staying in the present and staying in the moment, and enjoying it and realizing that you belong here and you’re here for a reason."

Lemieux is expected to slot in on the left side of Winnipeg's fourth line with centre Shawn Matthias and right-winger Nic Petan.

"He brings energy, a force on the forecheck," said Petan. "Just keep our game simple. I know I’m going to flip a few pucks into his corner during the first period. He’s very fired up to get out there. His speed, his energy and his excitement will help for sure."

Connor Hellebuyck is slated to start in the goal while blue-liner Ben Chiarot will slot in as a replacement for rookie Tucker Poolman. Chiarot had not seen any action in Winnipeg's first six games.

"He’s worked really hard. He’s hungry. We’re expecting this to be a big, physical, strong game in the corners," said Maurice, explaining Chiarot's return to the lineup. "That’s what we’re really hoping he brings to the table. Tucker (Poolman) had been good at his off side in exhibition, he had a rougher night (against Columbus) along with the rest of the group, but tonight seemed like a real good place for Ben to get his chance.

WILD INJURY WOES: Minnesota is battling a number of injuries to key performers who will not suit up tonight, including right-winger Nino Niederreiter (ankle), Zach Parise (undisclosed), centre Charlie Coyle (fractured fibula) and right-winger Mikael Granlund (groin).

Left-winger Marcus Foligno (facial fracture) returns to the lineup after missing one game.

"It doesn't matter who's in your lineup — you can play defence," said Minnesota head coach Bruce Boudreau. "I mean, when you're missing skilled players it's more difficult to score and you have to play better defence."

Boudreau has been emphasizing he wants improvements from everyone after the 1-1-2 Wild surrendered 13 goals in its three losses.

"I hope so because it's something we've been talking about a lot," said Boudreau. "This is a team, year in and year out, probably known way more for their defence than they have been for their offence. They take pride in it. Last year, until March 1, I think we were first by a good margin in defence."

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk will make his fourth start of the season for Minnesota.

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Read more by Mike Sawatzky.

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