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Score one, no two, for defense in Shawinigan

by Adam Schwartz / NHL.com
Shawinigan has been among the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's best teams this season, and a major part of that is offensive-minded defenseman Gabriel Lemieux.

Lemieux's offensive forays are countered by the defensive soundness of his partner on the blue line, Charles-Olivier Roussel. Those contrasting defenseman have paid off royally for Shawinigan and individually for the two players.

Lemiux, who has 4 goals and 13 points in 25 games, is ranked No. 4 by NHL Central Scouting among all 2009 Entry Draft prospects in the QMJHL. Roussel is ranked No. 5.
 
Chris Bordeleau, Central Scouting's QMJHL specialist, sees a little of Kris Letang -- another QMJHL alum starring for the Pittsburgh Penguins now -- when he watches Lemieux. Letang had 68 points in the 2005-06 season for Val d'Or. 

"(Lemieux) has played pretty well and I've seen him 5 or 6 times," Bordeleau said. "He's a good skater, he has good speed and he can carry the puck. He plays in all situations and has a good shot from the point. He's got a little bit of Letang in him. He has mobility and his quick wrist shot from the point.

"For me it's a sign of confidence when defensemen take wrist shots from the point instead of slap shots. Everybody tries to slap the puck all the time, but not him; he takes a wrist shot and that's part of why he reminds me of Letang."

Lemieux feels that while his strong suit is his offense, he could use some more harshness in his game. At 6-foot-1, 171 pounds, he is still looking to add the bulk necessary to be a presence in the corners and around his net.

"I have to be more consistent," Lemieux said. "Maybe my game could use some more toughness."

Bordeleau feels Lemieux already has a physical edge to his game, but that his offensive instincts are invaluable.

"In his own zone, he plays 1-on-1 and he's good at that," Bordeleau said. "He takes the body pretty good and he's got good timing. He's got no problem in his own zone. He's got something that you can't teach -- which is offensive ability. He thinks the game right and has good hockey sense and you can't teach that."
 
Lemieux watched when five defensemen chosen in the first round of the 2008 Entry Draft -- Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn and Luca Sbisa -- made opening-night NHL rosters. But, he is trying not to think about what awaits him, starting with the 2009 Entry Draft in Montreal.

"I just want to play well so I can be drafted as quick as possible," Lemieux said. "I don't really think about the draft. I have to pay attention to how I'm playing now and hopefully I'll be drafted."

Lemieux, like most offensive defenseman, takes chances in the other team's zone and, like any young defenseman, is prone to make mistakes. However, Lemieux has the speed to get back to catch an on-rushing forward.

"He carries the puck and he has plenty of speed," Bordeleau said. "Sometimes he gets caught, but he has the speed to get back and he did that the last time I saw him. He was deep and supporting the attack in the offensive zone and they lost the puck, but he was the first one back and he broke up the play in his own end."

In the rare situation in which Lemieux can't get back in time, he is helped by Roussel, whose defense-first philosophy is the perfect complement to Lemieux.

"He (Roussel) is more defensive, but he's a pretty good offensive defenseman too," Lemieux said.

Roussel, who is a heftier 6-1 and 200 pounds, plays a more physical brand of hockey. Both young men are improving with every game.

"He (Lemieux) doesn't always carry the puck because Roussel carries the puck well, also," Bordeleau said. "But they are both two of the better defensemen in the league. They are both playing a lot and they are progressing."

Lemieux relishes not just his on-ice relationship with Roussel, but their off-ice friendship, as well.

"I think we have a good match-up and we have good communication because we both speak French," said Lemieux. "I'm more comfortable with him. Last year, we (went) to school together; then we'd do something like go to the cinema or things like that after practice together."

And in June, they'll be able to go to the 2009 Entry Draft together.

Contact Adam Schwartz at aschwartz@nhl.com.


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