This is the fourth part of a series looking at the players Tim Murray has traded during the tank seasons of the Sabres.
Sam Reinhart was the star of Tim Murray's first draft as Sabres GM, but the Sabres' second-round pick caught people's attention too. Murray selected Brendan Lemieux, the son of famous agitator Claude Lemieux, after sliding down the draft board a bit further than expected.
He's a tough winger who has an offensive touch, which seemed like a perfect fit for the Sabres. He totalled 53 points in his draft-eligible season with the Barrie Colts, third on the team in scoring.
After one training camp in Buffalo, Lemieux was sent away to Winnipeg, along with Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Joel Armia in the Evander Kane trade. Although Armia was thought of as the biggest prospect in the trade, Lemieux wasn't a throwaway, notching 60 points in his first post-draft season. Arctic Ice Hockey ranked him No. 17 in their Top 25 Under 25.
It was soon discovered Lemieux reportedly wasn't willing to sign an entry-level deal with the Sabres, making his departure easier to swallow.
His first full season as a Jets prospect was interrupted in October when an illegal hit led to his indefinite suspension. He gave a clear headshot on the boards to Owen Sound's Keegan Reynolds, looking very methodical in his movements.
There certainly wasn't any rust when Lemieux returned, as he recorded a point in every game before he was traded to the Windsor Spitfires in December, a team that like the Colts is the top in its division. He has continued to exceed a point-per-game projections, totalling 21 points in 13 games. He's averaging a point and a half a game, continuing to improve his points-per-game every year.
1. Do you think Lemieux's offensive abilities will translate to the professional level?
I don't doubt it! Lemieux is such a well-rounded player. He is mature (physically, mentally he could use some work), strong, has pretty good vision, an ability to make plays and is a skilled goal scorer. Yes, that doesn't always translate at a pro level but Lemieux has all the tools to evolve into a very well rounded player. He would add skill, goal production and an advantage with special teams being able to not only draw penalties but make the opposing team pay with the man advantage. Just know he is also VERY good at taking penalties.
2. What was the reaction in Barrie like when he was suspended indefinitely for his hit on Reynolds?
When Lemieux received his indefinite suspension (10 games) for his hit on Reynolds I can honestly say that nobody here in Barrie was surprised. Many were frustrated and believed that the suspension was hefty considering the hit was not nearly as violent as many would lead you to believe. Were it not for Lemieux's reputation, or already tarnished reputation, I don't believe there would have been any discipline. The only reason the hit looked as bad as it did was because of there being contact with the head. Reynolds was scrambling to regain the puck and while looking for it had his head level with the top of the boards. He left himself in a VERY vulnerable position. If you watch closely, Lemieux took no strides with the hit. He glided into Reynolds and made contact. Had Reynolds been more aware of his positioning, there is no chance that this would have been anything more than a clean hit. So, what was Barrie's reaction? We were disappointed to have a top player out of the line-up again, but we were not shocked.
3. Besides the physical style, what does he bring to a team?
Lemieux is a great goal scorer, especially on the power play. If you look at last season, the majority of Barrie's point production came from Joseph Blandisi (under contract with the Devils), Andrew Mangiapane (Flames prospect) and Kevil Labanc (Sharks prospect). Each of those players totalled over 100 points each. However, when it came to making a team pay with the man advantage, it was Lemieux who was always in the tough areas fighting to get the puck to get the goal. In 57 games last season, Lemieux lead the OHL with 25 PP goals. That is 4 more than DiBrincat had for the Otters but it can be noted that he played in 11 more games than Lemieux did. Even this season he has managed to put up 10, even though he has sat out a large part of the year because of suspensions.
4. Have the Colts missed something since he was traded?
Other than the PP goals? Lemieux scored a lot, and after losing captain Joseph Blandisi as an over-age player the Colts needed someone to make up for the loss in goal production. Lemieux did that. Not only did he score, but he had an incredible ability to get under the skin of opposing players. He was great at drawing penalties and as we mentioned, on many of those man advantages, he would also make them pay on the score sheet.
5. Do you think Sabres fans should feel bad about having to give up a player like Lemieux in the Kane trade?
That is a tough question to answer. I would say yes, and no. Yes because Lemieux is a very fun player to watch. He really is one of those guys that you love on your team but hate playing against. Lemieux would have likely turned into a great player for Buffalo, yet he would also be one of those guys you curse every time he took a penalty. Lemieux could have really been great! That being said, "could" is not a guarantee. Buffalo had needs now and the chance at bringing in a guy who they knew was going to be NHL ready and already has proven his abilities at a professional level. Could Lemieux have been great? For sure! But, he could have also been a liability.