On Monday, the NHL Department of Player Safety announced that Brendan Lemieux will be suspended for two Stanley Cup playoff qualifying games, meaning the Rangers will be without one of their most aggressive and hardest-hitting forwards when the Stanley Cup playoff qualifying round begins on August 1.
Lemieux will be eligible to return for Game 3 on August 4, but until then, the Rangers will be missing a reliable sparkplug.
Head coach David Quinn has frequently pointed to Lemieux’s ability to “ignite the team.” Lemieux plays with pace, ruggedness, and sometimes a level of recklessness that leads to spells in the penalty box, fines, and suspensions – the 24-year-old was whistled for 111 penalty minutes in 59 regular season games in 2019-20.
Similar to former fan favorite Sean Avery before him, Lemieux excels at getting under the skin of opponents while providing sufficient production. The “pest” is somewhat of a dying breed in the modern NHL, but what makes Lemieux valuable is how he combines speed, physicality, an in-your-face attitude, and scoring punch.
Across two seasons and 78 total games as a Ranger, Lemieux has recorded nine goals and 15 assists. He is yet to skate in a playoff game with either the Winnipeg Jets or the Rangers, though, so expect a charged introduction when Lemieux makes his postseason debut in Game 3.
It will be interesting to see how Lemieux fares in his first playoff action. His father, Claude, embraced the role of the playoff villain by playing with a level of intimidation and dirtiness that opponents feared and rival fans detested.
But Claude was also an incredibly accomplished postseason performer, capturing four Stanley Cup championships and earning the 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy. While Brendan shares some similarities to his father, it would be unfair to pile expectations on him because of his bloodline.
That said, the younger Lemieux certainly possesses the qualities of an effective, agitating playoff performer on paper. We’ll see how this translates on ice in his first playoffs; there’s a difference between playing on the edge and going over the edge in a way that hurts your team. Lemieux will need to stay clear of incidents like his November 2018 illegal check to the head of Vincent Trocheck, and his headshot of Colorado’s Joonas Donskoi this March.
The NHL Department of Player safety cited the latter in outlining the reasons for Lemieux’s two-game suspension:
“On Wednesday, March 11, in Colorado, Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux was assessed a minor penalty for a late, high hit on Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi,” the NHL stated in its video explanation. “As the video shows, Donskoi enters the Rangers’ zone on the rush as Lemieux backchecks through center. Donskoi fights off a Rangers’ defender and regains control of the puck before releasing a quick shot on goal. Well after the puck is gone, Lemieux leans hard into Donskoi’s path – making substantial contact with Donskoi’s head and causing an injury. This is interference.
“It is important to note that we do not view this play as a mere collision. Lemieux visibly shifts his weight to move himself into Donskoi’s path, then braces for contact in a way that ensures Donskoi absorbs the brunt of the impact. It is also important to note that Lemieux initiates this check well after Donskoi releases the shot and contact is made well outside of the window where a check may be legally finished. Donskoi has no reason to expect to be hit this long after the puck is gone, making him particularly vulnerable to contact. What causes this hit to rise to the level of supplemental discipline is the lateness of the hit, the substantial head contact and the force of the impact.”
Lemieux will be permitted to dress for the Rangers’ July 29 exhibition game against the Islanders, but when he returns for playoff Game 3, he will be thrown into the middle of a series. What the Blueshirts will need from him is agitation, hard hitting, and determined net-front efforts – but with a level of controlled aggression.