Some players transition seamlessly from the CHL to the pros, but most do not. Brendan Lemieux is one of the ones who didn’t. He had a rough first pro season, full of ups and downs. Nobody expected him to score at the same pace he did in the OHL, but a rookie season bookended by injuries did him no favors.
The agitating former-Barrie Colt ended his first pro season the way he started it: out with an injury. It was a tough way to go through his first AHL campaign. Lemieux’s rookie season was by no means all bad. He put up double-digit goals on a weak Manitoba Moose team and, as befits his agitating style, earned over 100 PIMS.
Still, Jets fans expected more from Lemieux, with good reason. His first foray into the AHL late in the 2015-16 season saw him net two goals and an assist in five games.
The goal against Rockford showcases Lemieux at his best.
While his penchant for peskiness is well known, his shot from the top of the right circle on the power play is an underrated asset. Last year, he an underused asset by the Moose coaching staff, as Lemieux was able to run roughshod over OHL goalies on the power play but the Moose preferred to use him as a net front presence.
Older and Wiser
Lemieux will come into camp a year older, a year more mature, and with a pro season already under his belt. Last year, an injury before training camp kept him off the ice during every exhibition contest, and those games would have been valuable to get used to the pro game.
The injury, suffered during the prospects tournament where Lemieux had been successful in the past, put him behind the eightball from the start. If he’d been healthy and had a full training camp, who knows how much that would have helped?
This year Lemieux looks healthy and ready to go, so the hope is that he’ll have a full training camp this time and not be playing catch-up from the word go. Expect him to get a longer look during exhibition games this time around.
Last year there was some (obviously premature) talk that Lemieux might challenge for a roster spot. This year, with the Jets deeper at forward than they’ve ever been, that seems less likely, but don’t be surprised if Lemieux is one of the last players to be returned to the Moose.
Brendan Lemieux said there’s jobs to be won this fall, and if there isn’t one for him, he’s going to create one. #NHLJets
— Scott Billeck (@ScottBilleck) June 26, 2017
Still, he has a few advantages going into camp, besides a year of pro experience and the lessons it taught him. He has that killer shot from the right circle, an agitating streak a mile wide, toughness, and advice from the best agitator of his era in his father Claude.
Where’s the Ceiling?
Lemieux’s struggles in his first pro season have led some to question how good he can be in the best leagues in North America. Is he destined to be another junior star who never finds professional success?
Admittedly, the odds seem stacked against him when you look at who’s ahead of him on the depth chart. Lemieux’s advantage is that unlike many skilled players, he can be placed on a traditional fourth line and be right at home. Of course, his scoring touch means he won’t just be a useless board rattler either.
Just to be clear, I don’t expect Lemieux to make the Jets out of camp. I’ve been pleasantly surprised before, but Lemieux seems destined for the Moose as of now. Don’t expect a repeat of last year, however. An older, wiser and healthier Lemieux, surrounded by what is shaping up to be a deeper, more veteran-supported Moose team, should mean a better year.
With injuries behind him, Lemieux will have every opportunity to get back on track. By all accounts, his development camp showed he’s healthy again, and dedicated to being in the best possible shape for training camp. When the exhibition games start, Lemieux will make it his mission to make the Jets brass sit up and take notice, and make fans remember why they were so excited to see him come over in the Tyler Myers trade.
He has all the tools and all the opportunity he needs to do it. Now, like the rest of us, he’s left to wait for September with heavy anticipation.