BUFFALO – Rookie Brendan Lemieux figures he has a chance. Sure, the Sabres have more experienced players fighting for the two or three open wing spots this training camp. But the 18-year-old believes a place in tonight’s preseason lineup means they want to evaluate him.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have a chance,” Lemieux, the 31st pick in June, said this morning inside the First Niagara Center. “I don’t think they would’ve kept me around if they didn’t think they were looking for response. …
“My goal’s definitely to make the team. I think I have a chance. I’m going to keep working until I can.”
Lemieux skated on the left wing beside Mikhail Grigorenko and Patrick Kaleta, who’s playing his first game since tearing his ACL on Nov. 29, this morning.
Tonight’s lineup will be much stronger than the one coach Ted Nolan dressed Sunday.
Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Drew Stafford; Nick Deslauriers, Sam Reinhart, Chris Stewart; Zac Dalpe, Zemgus Girgensons, Brian Gionta.
Defense: Andre Benoit, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe, Andrej Meszaros, Tyler Myers, Mark Pysyk.
Jhonas Enroth will likely start in goal.
Tonight could be it for Lemieux, a slick agitator many projected to be a first-rounder. The Sabres will likely assign him to the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts soon.
Lemieux, of course, learned from his father, legendary NHL pest Claude Lemieux.
“He’s a very personable young man,” Nolan said. “He wants feedback. He’s one of the younger players that actually come to you and ask how I did, how I looked, and it’s not in a suck-up mode. He really wants to learn, wanted to get here, and I think he comes from good stock. His father knows about the game.”
Lemieux called his preseason debut “a dream since I’ve been a kid.”
“It’s just one more step in the right direction,” he said.
Kaleta, meanwhile, acknowledged he has some nerves.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “To be honest, I’m pretty nervous, too. It’s been a while since I played a game. I think the excitement part is starting to take over.”
The Sabres’ old regime sent Kaleta to Rochester early last season following his 10-game suspension for hitting Columbus’ Jack Johnson in the head.
Nolan wants Kaleta to keep playing his ferocious style, though.
“We want Kaleta to be Kaleta,” he said prior to the game. “We want to make sure he brings that same fire and spark that he’s always played with. Sometimes (there’s) that line you might cross, and he crossed it a few times. We don’t want him to cross that line.
“We want him to play effective. We want him to play gritty. We want him to play like the pain in the butt that could be.”
In other news, Nolan said the Sabres will name a new captain when camp breaks. Gionta, Gorges and Moulson will be the alternates tonight.