PHILADELPHIA – Brendan Lemieux was crushed. He’d spent the last month certain he would be a first-round pick in the NHL Draft, but team after team went in another direction. He walked out of the Flyers’ arena Friday night dejected and angry.
That’s when he learned it pays to be the son of Claude Lemieux. The family’s draft circle in Philly included Jeremy Roenick and Dale Hawerchuk, longtime NHL greats who offered words of encouragement. Those were followed by a text from none other than Wayne Gretzky, who wanted Brendan to know he has the opportunity to prove teams wrong and strive to be great.
“I’ve had plenty of support, maybe a little bit too much with so many great players surrounding me,” Lemieux said with a grin Saturday.
The 18-year-old winger was able to smile on Day Two of the selection process because he waited just two minutes to hear his name called. Buffalo drafted the physical, intense winger with the first pick of the second round, No. 31 overall.
“I expected to be a first-round pick and never even really looked at the second round,” Lemieux said. “With that being said, things have a way of working out. I think it could be a blessing in disguise that I waited it out. I’m proud to be picked with the first pick of the second round. … I’m just going to use this as fuel. They gave one of the more fiery guys in the draft a lot more fire.”
Lemieux shares more than a last name with his infamous father. Brendan patterns his game after Claude, who was a beloved winner on his team and despised to the core by opponents. Fans in Colorado and New Jersey remember a Stanley Cup performer. Others, especially in Detroit, see a dirty, dirty dog who took agitation over the line.
“I model my game after my dad,” Brendan said. “He’s my biggest role model on and off the ice. I’m proud of the career he had, and I’m proud of the way he played, how hated he was. I just love that about him.
“I definitely want to follow in his footsteps and want to be that guy that can step up in the playoffs and really be that playoff performer. To me, that’s what’s most important is the postseason. I want to come up big when it counts.”
Claude hopes Brendan excels without the infamy.
“I was pretty hated,” Claude readily admitted. “As his father, hopefully he doesn’t get to that level, but he likes to play that instigator and in-your-face kind of player. If you look at how the game is played and the Stanley Cup finals, the grit of the Los Angeles Kings and some of those teams, that’s how you get there. Even in today’s game, it still works.”
The 6-foot, 206-pound Brendan Lemieux immediately adds an element that is short supply in Buffalo. He’s brash and confident, a contrast to the quiet guys who dwell in the Sabres’ dressing room.
“He’s definitely not quiet,” Claude Lemieux said. “He’s a leader and he’s a winner. He loves to win and he plays the game the right way, so I’m sure the fans will identify with him.
“It’s the kind of player you need when you’re in a rebuilding mode. You want to have these character players. It’s like a recipe. You can’t just have potatoes in your beef stew. You’ve got to have a little spice, and he’ll bring that.”
Brendan Lemieux jumped 10 spots to No. 28 in the NHL Central Scouting rankings after an impressive season with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League. The left wing recorded 27 goals, 26 assists and 145 penalty minutes in 65 games. He added seven goals and 10 points in 11 playoff games.
He needs to add speed in order to make the jump to the NHL.
“I’m a hard worker, and I really take pride in that,” Lemieux said. “I think this summer, next summer, all the summers, I’m going to go into camp, and I’m going to try and make an impact as quickly as I can.”
Claude Lemieux, who works for a sports agency, feels his son is going to an ideal team. Brendan doesn’t have to live with the “Claude’s son” questions that would be plentiful in Colorado, Detroit and New Jersey. Plus, Claude is a fan of Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who was an assistant coach with Hartford when Lemieux’s brother, Jocelyn, played for the Whalers.
“I’ve known Teddy Nolan for a long time,” Claude said. “I think he’s going to do a great job with a young team in Buffalo. It’s going to be a great opportunity.”