On Feb. 25, 2019 — the NHL’s trade deadline — the Rangers sent Kevin Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets for Winnipeg’s 2019 1st round pick, a conditional 4th round pick in the 2022 Draft, and a then 22-year-old Brendan Lemieux.
The biggest piece in the trade was, of course, Winnipeg’s first round pick, but Lemieux represented a young player that could fill a role in the Rangers’ bottom-six forward group.
Prior to the 2018-19 season, Corey Pronman of The Athletic categorized Lemieux as a prospect who “had a chance” to make be a good player. Here is an excerpt from Pronman’s article on the Jets’ farm system, in which he ranked Lemieux as their 12th-best prospect.
He’s not all brawn, as Lemieux skates well, has good touch around the net and shows fine offensive instincts. It’s questionable whether he’s a good enough player with the puck to be a legit scorer in the NHL, but he could take a regular shift.
Prior to joining the Rangers, Lemieux had four fighting majors, 64 PIM, and nine goals in the 44 games he played with Winnipeg this year. It was hard to know what exactly Jeff Gorton had just traded for; Lemieux was averaging just 7:25 TOI/GP with the Jets. He was a part-time player who excelled at agitating and was shooting at an unsustainable 24.3 percent. There were also some disturbing signs that there was a big hole in his game in regards to his play away from the puck.
Lemieux’s possession numbers relative to his Jets teammates were definitely discouraging — his -2.95 Rel CF% was the third-worst among Winnipeg’s forwards at the end of the season. That number definitely overshadowed his counting stats with the Jets and the numbers he put up in the AHL in the 2017-18 season.
Overall, the expectation for Lemieux was for him to be a developing agitator who could, if all went well, carve out a role for himself in the Rangers’ bottom-six forward group.
Lemieux scored three goals and picked up three assists in the 19 games he played with the Rangers. In all situations, he took 11 penalties — including two misconducts — and drew 11 penalties as a Ranger. He also dropped the gloves twice, which means that he took seven minor penalties in a Rangers jersey.
That’s a lot of time in the box.
So, his penalty differential was definitely not as good as it was when he was in Winnipeg, but we still got a taste of Lemieux’s gift for agitation. He definitely plays the game with an edge and made that abundantly clear when he was credited with seven hits in his Rangers debut on Feb. 27.
Lemieux averaged 2.52 hits per game with the Rangers after averaging 1.84 hits per game with the Jets. More importantly, he picked up two goals and three assists in his first seven games with the Blueshirts. You could say that he made a big impression in his first two weeks in New York.
However, Lemieux picked up just one point — a goal scored in the Rangers’ 5-2 loss against Pittsburgh on March 25 — in his last dozen games of the season. So, what happened there?
Maybe it was his shooting percentage coming back down to earth. Maybe it was a result of him playing for a team with less offensive firepower. It’s also worth noting that MSG Networks Steve Valiquette and Rick Carpinello of The Athletic both believe that Lemieux hit something of a wall due to conditioning. He went from playing 7:25 TOI/GP with the Jets to 12:50 TOI/GP with the Rangers.
The more likely explanation is that Lemieux is a one-dimensional forward who doesn’t excel at creating his own offense and struggles away from the puck. Lemieux goes to the nasty, greasy areas and that is generally why he has been able to score at the AHL and NHL level and why his 7.99 iSCF60 and his 0.64 ixGF60 of 0.64 — both of which are at 5v5 — compare favorably to the skilled forwards on the Rangers this year.
So, is Lemieux the guy who earned a Gordie Howe hat trick against the Oilers on March 11, or is he the guy who notched one point in his last dozen games? After diving into the numbers, we can safely say that he’s both of those players. He’s a sh*t-stirring forward who goes hard to the net and is most valuable when he’s drawing penalties and getting the opposing team off of their game.
Grade: B | Banter Consensus: B
Full disclosure: I was not a fan of Lemieux coming back in the Hayes trade. He’s undoubtedly an NHL-caliber forward, but I felt that he was the wrong young player for the Rangers to pry away from the Jets in the Hayes trade.
Lemieux comes away with a “B” here because he was who many of us thought he was. If he played the way he played in his first few games he would have finished with a better grade, but he definitely petered out as the end of the season approached.
Even though Lemieux is a former 31st overall pick (in the 2014 Draft), it’s hard to say if he will develop into a more complete player. Remember, he turned 23 in mid-March. He is a pending RFA. This season was the last year of his three-year entry-level contract.