WINNIPEG - Brendan Lemieux has been waiting a long time for his NHL debut.
Now it's only one night away.
The 21-year-old will be in the line-up when the Winnipeg Jets wrap up a three-game home stand against the Minnesota Wild Friday night at Bell MTS Place.
"I'm excited, and I've been waiting my whole life for this," said Lemieux after Thursday's practice. "It's been a dream since I watched my dad play in the NHL to play, and I'm just really blessed to have the opportunity to be able to do it."
His father, Claude, played 1,215 games in the NHL, and during his playing days often brought young Brendan around the dressing room. Playing in the NHL has been a dream since that time, and with his first game just over 24 hours away, Lemieux said it was a longer road than he anticipated.
Video: PRACTICE | Brendan Lemieux
"Some of the stuff you learn along the way is almost as important as the game itself. I make it seem like I'm really old, but I'm still young," said Lemieux, who used to room with Florida's Aaron Ekblad while the two were teammates in the OHL with the Barrie Colts.
"My dad has put in almost as much work as I have to help me grow as a player. My mom has sacrificed a lot, all those early mornings, just like every other guy in this dressing room.
"It's different for a player's kid. There's a lot that makes it easier when your dad plays in the NHL and paves the way, then there's some things that are more of a challenge. It's been hard on my mom, but I'm sure they're happy that it's all been worth it. It's just one game. A lot of guys have played one game. I obviously want to stick and help this team win. But you have to start somewhere."
Lemieux was initially recalled on Tuesday, when Brandon Tanev's back spasms flared up earlier in the day. Tanev was able to play that night against Columbus and played 11:17 and finished as the team leader in hits with five.
In four games with the Manitoba Moose this season, Lemieux has three goals and five points.
Head coach Paul Maurice was in attendance for Lemieux's most recent game, a night when Lemieux scored twice to go along with five shots on goal in a 4-1 win over the Cleveland Monsters.
"He needed to go down, get better, and improve, and use his time there. I think he did. He practiced hard there according to Pascal (Vincent)," said Maurice. "I liked that, and certainly the time I saw him on the ice in his game here, he was driving, and driving hard. Had he not been, he wouldn't have been in the line-up."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
The practice habits Lemieux has shown both at the AHL level and in the last two days at the NHL level earned him the opportunity to get in the line-up - but his work off the ice made those practice habits possible.
He made a conscious effort to lose some mass in his upper-body in an effort to get lighter and quicker.
"He's got a physical presence to his game. The big change for Brendan is his speed. He worked hard this summer. He changed his body composition. He did a lot of really good work," said Maurice. "This game is all about speed now. You can't get in on the forecheck and you can't be a physical player anymore if you can't skate. Hopefully he's able to channel that energy tomorrow, show that speed, and it should be good. I'm looking forward to seeing him play."
Lemieux was drafted 31st overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2014, before being acquired by the Winnipeg Jets in a trade in 2015. Though the Sabres aren't the Jets competition tomorrow night, facing the Wild might just bring even more familiarity for Lemieux.
"I feel like I play Minnesota more than any other team. We play (Iowa) in the American League a lot, and then I play them every preseason game I feel like," said Lemieux with a smile, adding playing his first game on home ice will be special.
"I'm happy to be able to play in front of the fans here at home. I take a lot of pride that I've played for the Moose and I've been developed by this organization," he said. "I just want to make sure my body feels good and I can keep my focus on staying in the present and being grateful for the opportunity."
Video: PRACTICE | Nic Petan
After taking part in practice yesterday, defenceman Tyler Myers wasn't on the ice for Thursday's session. Maurice said the 6'8" blue-liner was stiff after yesterday's skate, and was held out today. He expects Myers to be in the line-up against Minnesota.
With Myers off the ice, the line rushes looked like this:
Dmitry Kulikov and Matt Hendricks were both wearing non-contact jerseys, but are getting closer to a return to full contact.
"We kept them out of a few drills, but they both got around fine," said Maurice. "I'd like to see them in a regular colour here next week."
Video: PRACTICE | Connor Hellebuyck
Maurice added a decision will be made tomorrow on whether Ben Chiarot will see his first action of the regular season as well.
"He's worked real hard, and prepared himself well," said Maurice. "Tucker (Poolman) being on the off side against a real fast team, it was more of a challenge for him, but that's part of the learning curve. Ben has worked hard and put himself in a position to get in a game."
Connor Hellebuyck will start in goal against Minnesota on Friday night.