EDMONTON – Brendan Lemieux has barged right into the Rangers locker room and made himself at home. The 6-1, 215-pound forward, acquired from Winnipeg in the Kevin Hayes deal at the Feb. 25 trade deadline, has quickly made a connection with his new teammates. On the ice, he plays a physical game, getting in opponents’ faces and adding energy to the team, and in the dressing room, he is one of the chattier players, always asking questions of his teammates, and quick to exchange good-natured gibes.
“For me, you want to win over your teammates,’’ Lemieux said Monday at Rogers Place, before the Rangers took on the Edmonton Oilers in the first game of a four-game road trip. “You want to prove to your teammates you’re a guy that can play, and for me, a guy that can be an energy guy, drive the pace up, bring energy and, you know, score some goals for us.’’
Lemieux, who turns 23 on Friday, scored two goals – including the game-winner – in just seven minutes and 49 seconds of ice time the last time he played against the Oilers, in Winnipeg’s 4-3 win in Edmonton on New Year’s Eve. So, he admitted Monday, “I like playing in Edmonton.’’
So far, Lemieux has said all the right things about being excited to play in New York and how much he’s looking forward to getting a chance to play an increased role with the Rangers. He’s bummed out by the fact that the Rangers won only one of the first six games he played with the team, but for now, he is willing to take solace in the way the Rangers have played, as opposed to obsessing over the results. He said it’s crucial to play well on this last big road trip to the team’s mission.
“It’s important to start off road trips well, especially with a young group; especially with a group that’s, you know, had a tough year,’’ he said. “We need to put the right foot in front of us these last 14 games. These last 14 games are going to be huge, going into next year, for building confidence, for being able to see what kind of players can play where, and who can play and who can’t.’’
Based on the early returns, Rangers coach David Quinn thinks Lemieux can play. He is similar in size and plays a similar style to his father, the former Devils pest Claude Lemieux – who was known, in his day, as the most hated man in hockey. Like his father, Brendan Lemieux is an agitator, who “pisses people off,’’ according to Quinn. He hits people and talks trash; he drives to the front of the net; works the corners, and, the coach said, he comes back to the bench exhausted after every shift.
The one problem, Quinn has said, is that after getting limited minutes as a fourth-liner in Winnipeg, Lemieux isn’t quite in condition to handle third-line minutes with the Rangers. Lemieux, though, said he is playing his way into shape.
“Playing the way I do requires a ton of energy, just because that extra 2-3 strides to hit a guy, 2-3 strides to get back into the play, and even the hit itself, is a lot of energy,’’ Lemieux said. “So, being a physical guy, and having to be able to play a lot, you’ve got to be in really incredible shape. And the only way to do it – as hard as you push in the gym – the only real way to get into that shape is by playing games, and I just haven’t played that many games, with a substantial amount of ice.
“Eight minutes is one thing; anyone can fly around for eight minutes,’’ he said. “But when you’re getting into the 13, 14, 15, 16 minute-range, you’ve got to be able to keep that energy up. So, it’s building.’’