Hartnett: Lemieux Flashing His Potential With Rangers

Rangers left wing Brendan Lemieux plays the puck against Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson on March 25, 2019, at Madison Square Garden.
Photo credit USA TODAY Images

As the final weeks of the NHL regular season roll down, Rangers coach David Quinn is continuing to test his players with new responsibilities. When the Rangers acquired 23-year-old wing Brendan Lemieux, there was always the chance that the rebuilding Blueshirts could experiment with him in a variety of roles.

With Chris Kreider sidelined by a lower-body injury, an opportunity opened for Lemieux to jump on the top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich for Monday’s contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Though the Penguins scored five unanswered goals to hand the Rangers a 5-2 defeat, Lemieux added further credence to the belief that his potential could extend beyond that of a bottom-six forward.

Lemieux scored the game’s opening goal by using his strength to win the puck from Justin Schultz near center ice, allowing Zibanejad to skate the puck into the offensive zone. Zibanejad dished the puck to Pavel Buchnevich near the top of the left circle, who then found an open Lemieux, who snapped a shot past Matt Murray.

The physical wing is showing that he can be a capable finisher and an effective agitator. Among rookies who have played over 20 games, Lemieux has the most goals per 60 minutes at 1.48. Through 57 games combined with the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets in 2018-19, he has netted 12 goals and collected five assists.

It’s no secret that Lemieux possesses an ability to get under the skin of opponents. He drew two penalties during Monday’s meeting with the Pens. He also leads rookies who’ve played over 20 games with 2.96 minor penalties draw per 60 minutes.

A youthful version of the Rangers failed to sustain their solid early play and clearly missed the experienced trio of Jesper Fast (season-ending upper-body injury), Marc Staal (lower-body injury) and Kreider (lower-body injury).

Lemieux was an outlier in that he was effective throughout. In all, he scored a goal, recorded three shots on goal, registered two hits and drew two penalties in the contest – while totaling a career-high 15:39 of total ice time.

Since joining the Rangers, the 6-foot-1 wing has scored three goals and notched three assists in 13 games. Over his last nine games, he’s registered two goals and three assists.

Lemieux is proving that he’s got a bit of scoring punch to go along with his aggression, agitation and physical strength. As part of a rebuilding team, he will continue to receive opportunities to flex his versatility, and there’s a good chance he’ll continue to expand his game under Quinn.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.