Nobody dislikes Claude Lemieux — except for everyone who played against him. “Pepe” had a way of getting under the skin of his opponents like no one else. And the hatred of his game is mutual for just about every team that had the misfortune of playing against him, especially if your name is Kris Draper.
The New York Rangers are a young team with loads of untapped potential. Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, K’Andre Miller and the list goes on. Recent years have shown us that skill alone doesn’t win Cups. Every team needs a little snarl, especially come playoff time.
At this rate, Brendan Lemieux will never be more than just a bottom-six pest. But I wouldn’t be so quick to devalue what he brings to the table.
Like Father, Like Son
It’s not a particularly pleasant evening facing off against Brendan Lemieux nowadays. He can often be seen verbally assaulting the opposition and frequently engaging in post-whistle shenaniganry. As a Rangers fan, it’s one of my favorite parts of the night. As a fan of the opposing team, I can imagine rage starts to build up inside.
The art of agitating was mastered by Claude and passed down to Brendan, and I love it.
Brendan plays a style of hockey that no one else on the Rangers plays. While Ryan Lindgren is not reluctant to throw the body, he does not seek out players on the opposition to irritate and annoy. Lemieux makes it his mission to play physical, pester you, and if he needs to, fight you.
When it comes to point totals, Claude has the definite advantage. During the 1992-93 campaign with the New Jersey Devils, Claude posted an impressive 81 points in 77 games. This would be his career high, but he also posted 71 and 68 points during the 1991-92 and 1995-96 seasons, respectively. Claude was a pest, but his skill as a hockey player was undeniable.
Brendan’s career is young, and his point totals are nowhere near his father’s. So far, young Lemieux has a career high of just 18 points in 59 games. Something worth mentioning is that Claude spent a lot of time skating alongside elite talent, while Brendan has seen only a handful of games in the Rangers’ top-six.
But the father-son duo share the love of instigating. I wouldn’t call either one of them an “enforcer,” but the Lemieux’s draw the ire of opposing teams on a nightly basis.
Know Your Role
With all this being said, Brendan does not lead the Rangers in hits this season. In fact, his advanced metrics are poor, and there is a good portion of Ranger fans who want Vitali Kravtsov to replace Lemieux in the lineup.
So, what does the arrival of Kravtsov mean for the Rangers’ bottom six? It means that one of them is out, and there is a real chance that Lemieux will be the one to take a seat. While all the metrics seem to agree with the decision to bench Lemieux, the old-school fan inside of me doesn’t see how sitting our only pest can be a good thing.
I don’t expect Brendan to get into fights every single game. What I do expect, is that he agitates, starts scrums after whistles, plays physical, and is — above all else — noticeable on the ice.
Tom Wilson is an all-around better player than Lemieux. However, Wilson can go a whole game without contributing offensively for the Washington Capitals and still be noticeable to the opposing fan base. His presence on the ice is felt by everybody. It’s the reason Capitals fans love him and the majority of the league does not.
This is what I want opposing fans to thinks about Lemieux. And I don’t want him to play like this most of the time. I want him to play like this all of the time.
Lemieux has one more season after this one at $1.5 million. He has plenty of time to prove why he deserves to be a mainstay in the Rangers’ lineup even with all the young scoring talent rising to the top. If he cuts down on turnovers, is reliable defensively, and continues to pester the opposition, I see no reason why Rangers fans wouldn’t want him here for the right price.
Junior writer covering the New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers.