It was an interesting year for Brendan Lemieux. The New York Rangers’ resident agitator was playing for a new contract after joining the Rangers at the 2018-19 trade deadline as part of the deal that sent Kevin Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets before the big center landed in Philadelphia. More importantly, Lemieux had an opportunity to prove he could be a depth player, or more, in New York for years to come.
Lemieux was brought to New York to provide some hard-nosed, north-south hockey and some depth scoring. The son of infamous pest Claude Lemieux, Brendan was the 31st pick of the 2014 Draft — essentially making him a late first round pick prospect. A vulture around the net, the 6-foot-1 winger entered the 2019-20 campaign with 13 goals and three assists in 72 career regular season games with the Jets and Rangers. So, a 14-goal pace, a positive penalty differential, and some growth in his play away from the puck seemed like reasonable goals to set for the 23-year-old depth winger.
“I just want to keep proving, showing that the way I play the game, my style, can be effective and can help our team win games.” #NYR Brendan Lemieux talks 2019-20 goals, on-ice testing, what we can expect to see from Jacob Trouba and much more: pic.twitter.com/pgWcHYylWk— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) September 13, 2019
Lemieux finished the 2019-20 regular season with six goals and 12 assists with five of his 18 points coming on the power play. Those were disappointing numbers on a disappointing Rangers fourth line. Lemieux is just one of two players in the NHL to finish the last two seasons with over 100 minutes in penalties — the other is Evander Kane. He got to that figure thanks to taking five majors and five misconducts to go along with 18 minors — second on the team behind only Ryan Strome.
So, while Lemieux finished well inside the green in penalty differential, he was more a little more devil-may-care than the controlled chaos the Rangers were hoping for. He was involved in several dangerous or at least sketchy plays including a late hit on Joonas Donskoi that resulted in him earing a suspension at the end of the season.
The bonehead plays were there, but so was the physicality and beneficial mischief. Lemieux led the team with 164 hits and drew a ton of penalties. All in all, he was an effective shit-stirrer but perhaps not effective enough. He also dropped the gloves with Radko Gudas, Mark Borowiecki, Ryan McDonagh, Tom Wilson, and William Carrier, making him the Rangers’ most pugilistic player in 2019-20.
Even though Lemieux saw some time on the power play, he spent the majority of the season on the fourth line with Brett Howden (277:10 at 5-on-5) as his most frequent linemate. That didn’t do his underlying numbers any favors. Among the Rangers’ regular forwards (min. 40 GP), Lemieux’s -4.97 Rel CF% was the third-worst on the team.
But there were some bright spots that warrant mention here. His 0.34 xGF% was sixth-best among the team’s forwards and seventh-best in xWAR (0.3). His 1.8 xGAR also ranked seventh-best among the Blueshirts’ forwards, which probably had something to do with his tendency to go hard to the net and hunt for tips and rebounds. His underwhelming six-goal season definitely had something to do with a 7.0 Sh%.
Still, like the entire bottom-six forward group from 2019-20, he left plenty to be desired in his play away from the puck. Lemieux also didn’t do much to create his own offense — though that was his M.O. heading into the season. Generally speaking, he’s a player with a limited toolkit who relies on his ability to stir the pot to make an impact. And that is what he did for the Rangers this year.
Final Grade: C
Banter Consensus: C+
I was hoping Lemieux could help replace some of the depth scoring that the Rangers lost when they traded Jimmy Vesey. Needless to say, he didn’t do that — but that isn’t entirely on him.
What is entirely on him are the late hits and sketchy plays he made throughout the year. There’s no place in the game for players who needlessly imperil their peers regardless of what else they may bring to the table. At times, Lemieux drifted over the line that separates agitators from dirty players and because of that he’s earned a reputation. That reputation can only hurt the Rangers. I’m also inclined to think that players like Lemieux, although entertaining, can become a detriment if they don’t paint inside the lines. But that’s just my two cents and I may have been a bit too harsh on the gritty winger.
It’s hard to say how big Lemieux’s role will be moving forward, but he did re-sign to stay in New York for two more years at a $1.55 million cap hit. Will he grow beyond his designation as a role player or is this egg already hatched? Let us know what you think and what grade you would give Lemieux for his play in the comments below.