The continuous purge of the New York Rangers during last month’s NHL trade deadline brought an end to the Madison Square Garden tenures of forwards Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes in an attempt to progress the organization’s rebuild.
While they weren’t the most popular moves amongst the fans, especially with the departure of long-time favorite Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars, it allowed the Rangers to continue stockpiling their draft picks.
Zuccarello yielded a 2019 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 third rounder while dealing Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets brought home a first rounder this year.
Yet it was a Brendan Lemieux, a player coming over from Winnipeg in that Hayes deal which has provided plenty of intrigue.
The son of four-time Stanley Cup champion, Claude, was an under-the-radar acquisition for the Rangers considering Lemieux could not secure consistent playing time on a loaded Jets team.
Once a 40-goal scorer in juniors with the Barrie Colts, Lemieux showed some offensive promise during his first full NHL season this year.
Sure, nine goals in 44 games with Winnipeg doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but this was a player averaging just seven minutes of ice time per game up North.
His shooting percentage was even more cause for optimism as he recorded those nine goals on just 37 shots for a shooting percentage of 24.1. To put it into perspective, Elias Petterson of the Vancouver Canucks and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers lead all qualifying players with a 21.8 shooting percentage.
In seven games since arriving in New York, Lemieux’s ice time has jumped up to 12:17 per night while that shooting percentage expectedly decreased. Yet he’s proving to be the kind of young talent the Rangers can covet as they continue to rebuild.
Lemieux recorded his first career Gordie Howe hat trick — which is a goal, an assist, and a fight — on Monday night against the Oilers in a 3-2 loss as he’s proving to be a chip off the old block from his old man, who had the reputation of being a skilled agitator during his 21-year career.
“He plays with passion and he’s helped us from day one,” head coach David Quinn said. “The thing I love about him is that when he comes to the bench, he’s exhausted because he’s out there trying and that’s the only way to get in shape.”
It’s providing the kind of tenacity the Rangers so desperately need as they trudge through the remainder of a difficult season as they now sit at 28-28-13 with 13 games to play. While they’ve been hanging tough in plenty of their games, the Metropolitan Division’s seventh-place team has seemed lifeless at times during a recent stretch in which they’ve won just one of their last eight games.
Lemieux’s work ethic will only continue to win over Quinn, thus bettering his chances will be of securing a starting role in the Big Apple next year.