There was plenty of talk that prospect Brendan Lemieux had a chance to make the Jets for the 2015-16 campaign as he participated in Winnipeg’s camp until September 28th before being re-assigned to his junior team. That same day when coach Maurice was asked about Lemieux being re-assigned the Jets bench boss indicated that Lemieux, “needs to get older, I really, really liked his game. I’m excited about the way he’s going to play for us. There were three or four people ahead of him that are NHL players. I didn’t expect that he was going to be able to come in and play as well as he did. I’m really excited about his camp.”
So Lemieux returned to the Barrie Colts where he began his fourth season in the OHL but he would play in just 11 games before he was traded to the Windsor Spitfires where he scored 23 goals in 34 games while adding 25 assists. Once Windsor was eliminated in five games Lemieux was assigned by Winnipeg to their AHL affiliate.
I caught up with him after his first practice with the Moose and you got the sense that he took advantage of the last year to add or enhance some elements of his game including playing along the half-wall on the power play and increasing his speed. Moose coach Keith McCambridge noticed that speed in that first practice and told me that, “you noticed him on the ice, in a good way”.
He made his AHL debut for the Moose in a home contest against the Milwaukee Admirals and while the home side lost the game he left an impression on our Moose reporter Peter Siamandas who wrote this in his post game report about Lemieux, “He had a few chances tonight, and showed good tenacity on the puck, and a hard, quick release on his shot. While he wasn’t able to get on the scoreboard, he looked like he belonged.”
It wasn’t until his third game with the Moose that he was able to get both his first professional point (an assist on a Austen Brassard goal) and then shortly thereafter his first AHL goal on the power play in front of the Rockford net. He was rewarded post game by his teammates with the Manitoba Moose flak jacket.
He was sat out of the first game of the final road trip in San Antonio as he was late to practice during the week so coach Keith McCambridge didn’t have him suit up against the Rampage. But he finished up strong the next night against the Stars in the Moose season finale.
In his exit interviews I asked him if his focus would be solely on making the Jets this summer and his answer demonstrated an understanding of the development process and why the AHL can be a necessary stepping stone to the NHL, “For me it’s been a process and I think that my mindset may have changed from the past to now in that the focus is so that when I am ready for the NHL that I am as good of a player as they want me to be and I can be effective immediately and I can be ready for the NHL.”
Despite the natural youthful desire to make the jump to the NHL immediately he understands that to achieve his goals there are things to learn along the way, “Before it was always I’m ready, I want to play now, I’m ready now and I’m blinded by that and that is all I’m going to settle for, and now that I understand it is a process and it takes time and you’ve got to grow into being ready. That sending you down, it’s not always about you not being ready but we are going to send you down to learn things so that when you do come up you are better for us and that is what going back to junior was for me and that’s what it’s going to be if I don’t make the team out of training camp next year.”
And his plan is to bring this ethic to his summer training, “So I’m just looking at it from that mindset, in that I know after this summer I am going to be that much more ready, that much more prepared to fight for a job and I will be ready to make the team, but if I don’t then it’s about me going back and being that much more prepared for when they need a guy, someone goes down or when they make room up top for me because I just should be up there.”
Coach McCambridge offered up this assessment of Lemieux in our exit interview, “I like the sandpaper that he brings. He is exiting to watch when he gets the puck. He has strength and a frame to him that is closer to an NHL frame with regards to creating space for himself. And you can see the offensive instincts, the way he shoots the puck, the release, how engaged he is in every single shift”.
Plenty for Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose fans to like about the game and maturity demonstrated by the young prospect. Will his sandpaper be a fit for the big club or will he require a bit more seasoning with the farm team? We will have a better idea sometime in late September/early October.