GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- To hear Brendan Lemieux, the final eight games of this New York Rangers season are not akin to an audition.
As he sees it, the 23-year old is adamant that these games are not a trial run so the organization can determine whether he can fill a role as a top-six forward in 2019-20.
“I think they know what they’re getting with me and they know that I’m versatile, and that I can play down in the lineup and also play up in the lineup,” Lemieux said following practice Sunday at the MSG Training Facility. Lemieux played on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich in Saturday night’s 2-1 overtime win in Toronto as a replacement for Chris Kreider, who missed the game with a lower-body injury.
During his post-practice media availability, coach David Quinn said Kreider is “still day-to-day and won’t be available for” Monday’s game at the Garden against the Penguins. Quinn also said Marc Staal, who did not participate in practice, sustained “a lower-body issue” in the win over the Leafs.
Against the Leafs, Lemieux recorded a shot on goal in 21 shifts spanning 15:29. But perhaps his most important contribution in the win was creating chaos in front of Frederik Andersen leading to Pavel Buchnevich’s goal that tied the game at one apiece 19 seconds into the third.
Lemieux drove to the net and became entangled with Jake Muzzin in front of Andersen, creating a shooting lane from the right circle for Buchnevich.
“Obviously, he was instrumental in the goal, creating the havoc he did at the net,” Quinn said. “I thought he did good things throughout the game.”
Acquired at the trade deadline along with a first round pick in June’s draft and a conditional fourth round pick in the 2022 draft from Winnipeg for Kevin Hayes, Lemieux has five points (two goals and three assists) in 12 games with the Rangers, where he is averaging 12:06 of ice time per game. By comparison, Lemieux recorded nine goals and two assists in 44 games while receiving 7:25 with the third-in-the-West Jets.
“I think I’m a little surprised from a skill standpoint,” Quinn said of Lemieux, who has provided a physical element (29 hits) and a north-south game to the lineup. “That said, he can’t lose sight of who he is and what’s going to allow him to have success at this level. I think his skill is a byproduct of his mentality.
“Then again, [what] jumped out at me was that he had nine goals before he got here in very little ice time. So you knew there was some offense there and a guy who had capabilities to score some goals. And I think there’s an offensive side to his game that was untapped.”