Among the several young bright spots in the New York Rangers lineup this season, Brendan Lemieux has set himself apart by bringing a brand of hockey we have seen before — Sean Avery.
When Brendan Lemieux came to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline last season, it was unknown how he’d adapt. The then 22-year-old had tallied 11 points in 44 games on the Winnipeg Jets’ fourth line.
We knew he was bringing down a hard-nosed and feisty brand of hockey like that of his father Claude. But in a time of so much change, it just wasn’t clear how he would handle a bigger role in this budding Blueshirts lineup.
26 games into the 2019-2020 season, I think we have an answer to that. Lemieux is the modern-day Sean Avery. The pesky, pot-stirring, bench-energizing forward with some offensive upside and an annoying net-front presence. No, he’s not quite the infamously despised nuisance that Avery was, but it’s more about the effect on the New York Rangers he has in games.
Avery saw his best days on Broadway. He created his storied stigma here while lurking in the shadows of Jaromir Jagr, Marian Gaborik, and Chris Drury — just like Lemieux has with Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Kaapo Kakko.
The beautiful part of Avery was how insufferable he was for every opposing player and fan of the Rangers. The Blueshirts gained momentum as he played fearlessly and rode the crowd’s energy.
Lemieux is bringing that brand back with his dirty net-front goals. Additionally, he lets his presence be known to anyone who gets in his way, such as dropping the gloves with the league’s current “most hated player,” Washington’s rudderless goon, Tom Wilson.
With 52 penalty minutes, Lemieux leads the New York Rangers and has already matched last year’s point output in just over half as many games. The 4-0 Montreal comeback he spearheaded with two goals was a testament to how the Denver native can swing games.
Offensively, Lemieux has more skill and upside than Avery did. The latter’s career-high was only 39 points with the Kings in 2006. For a player like Avery, at that time, scoring as many as 39 points in a season was rare. Pests like him were used solely to annoy opponents, not as goal scorers.
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Today’s NHL has no room for unskilled players, well some room (cough Micheal Haley cough), so a modern-day Sean Avery should be more familiar with the point columns than his then-impressive 39 points had been.
While Rangers fans may never see an exact reincarnation of Sean Avery, Lemieux is the first player that has reminded me of Avery’s “ride or die” mentality since number 16 left the MSG ice for good in 2011. Despite the ruckus he made, Avery embodied the meaning and heart of who a hockey player truly is, putting his body on the line every night to make a contribution.
With Lemieux’s face looking like a jigsaw puzzle as of late all for the sake of a win, no one can doubt he leaves it all on the ice. In their respective Rangers careers, they weren’t the biggest guys out there, but arguably the toughest.
One thing is for sure Lemieux will be a fan favorite for years to come.