Brendan Lemieux was drafted with the 31st overall pick back in the 2014 draft. After moving from the Sabres to the Jets, he finally made it to the NHL in the 2018-19 season. This four year journey weighed on Lemieux. He was once drafted because of his offensive talent, but over the years the narrative changed and he entered the season on Winnipeg’s fourth line with the task of being an enforcer.
This is an aspect of Lemieux’s game that is undeniably present. He is an aggressive hitter, he talks the entire game and he can definitely fight. But this is where he’s misunderstood. Lemieux is not a fighter, and to limit him to this role is foolish because he has the offensive arsenal to become a middle six scorer. This season Lemieux’s production, ice time divided by points, was 32:42. This is better than Jimmy Vesey’s first three seasons, which have been 40, 40, and 36. It’s also better than Brett Howden’s, a similar player who others would perceive as a better offensive prospect that Lemieux but finished with a 42:03 production stat this year. Ryan Strome, who some fans have seemed to fall in love with, has beaten this production once in his career. Vladislav Namestnikov has only beaten it twice.
Lemieux’s numbers don’t blow anyone away, but his aforementioned strengths as an agitator and net presence help separate him from the host of third line forwards the Rangers have. Lemieux has a unique game in his size, skill and attitude. He almost reminds me of a young Sean Avery.
With his contract coming up, the Rangers have a decision to make. The Rangers currently have four or five forwards who are long-term locks for their first two lines. They will eventually have to decide the fate of players such as Howden, Lemieux, Vesey, Boo Nieves, Namestnikov and Strome. None of these players project as first or second liners on a contender, and the Rangers will want to keep some spots on their third and fourth lines for cheap and developing rookies.
Lemieux should be one of the players the Rangers choose to re-sign because he fills two roster positions. Not only is he a rookie who can develop into a scorer but he can also assume the role of the enforcer. This is valuable as often teams have to burn a roster spot with someone who can’t contribute to the offense in order to fill this role. Along with Anthony DeAngelo, Brendan can help protect our younger and more skilled players while contributing to the offense and using his skills in front of the net. Furthermore, his contract has come up at a great time as the Rangers can offer him a two or three year bridge deal at a cheap price that he would be inclined to take given how long it took him to make it to the NHL and his limited role on a contending team.