© Colin Peddle/St. John’s IceCaps
St. John’s IceCaps defenceman Brett Lernout releases a shot during an American Hockey League game at Mile One Centre earlier this season. The 6-4 blueliner from Winnipeg is off to a good start to his pro career, appearing in all but one of the IceCaps’ games this season and registering a goal and five helpers, along with 32 minutes in penalties and a minus-two rating.
Big defenceman adjusting to pro game in rookie season with St. John’s IceCaps
Brett Lernout stands 6-4, but the St. John’s IceCaps defenceman hasn’t been standing out in his rookie season.
Don’t take that as a knock, however.
Lernout has been steady, if unspectacular, through 32 games in his first American Hockey League campaign after three years of junior in the Western Hockey League.
“When you don’t notice someone,” said IceCaps coach Sylvain Lefebvre, “sometimes that’s a good thing.
“We like his potential. He’s a big kid with ability, he can move on the ice and he reads the play well. It usually takes longer for young defencemen to pan out, but Brett’s progressing well.”
Lefebvre should know. A nondescript rearguard during his playing days, Lefebvre did all the little things right, leading to a 14-year NHL career and a Stanley Cup with the 1996 Colorado Avalanche.
Having just turned 20 in September, Lernout still has a ways to go before his name is linked with “lengthy NHL career”, but the Winnipeg native is off to a good start. Appearing in all but one of the IceCaps’ games this season, Lernout has a goal and five helpers, along with 32 minutes in penalties and a minus-two rating.
He had a big game Saturday night in Utica, N.Y. as the IceCaps beat the Comets 3-1 to clew up a five-game, post-Christmas road trip.
The big, first-year defenceman didn’t register a point, but was on the ice for each of the three St. John’s goals.
“You can see,” Lefebvre said, “that from the beginning of the season until now, he’s playing with more confidence.
“It’s a learning process,” the coach continued. “For a young kid coming from junior to pro, there are a lot of things to learn and a lot of things to adjust to, but he’s getting there.”
This isn’t Lernout’s first introduction to the pros. After his junior season in Swift Current, Sask., ended last year — he had 14 goals, 42 points and 68 PIMS for the Broncos — Lernout was summoned to Hamilton, where the Montreal Canadiens’ farm club was located.
He made six AHL starts for the Bulldogs.
“He had played a lot of minutes in the WHL, and he had lost weight over the season so he was a lanky kid,” Lefebvre said. “He was a tough player in junior, and he had more space to work with. I think he realized pretty quickly that guys are really on top of you quickly in pro, and there’s less time to make plays, so I think that caught him by surprise.
“Not that guys were zipping by him, but it’s an adjustment... a big adjustment. Now he’s more mature physically, probably because he’s a workhorse in the gym. And it’s showing.”
Looking back, Lernout is glad to have gotten the six-game AHL look-see last season, if only to prepare him for 2015-16. With the introduction to the pros already completed, Lernout was ready to get to work.
“It might not seem like much, but it was good to get that taste of the pro game, to get a feel for what pro hockey is like,” he said.
“It just made the transition this season a little easier.”
And speaking of easy, Lernout says the big difference between pro and junior — besides the size and speed of the players — is the flow of the game.
“Everybody is in the right place all the time,” he said, “and the play is less scrambly. I wouldn’t say it’s easier, because you’re playing against men instead of teenagers, but the difference is the guys are in the right place all the time.
“And when the puck’s on your stick, you have to move it right away or else the other team will take away your time and space pretty quickly.”
Lernout was obviously moving the puck well Saturday, judging by his plus-three rating as St. John’s got goals from Lucas Lessio, Jeremy Gregoire and Brandon McNally, his first as an IceCap, to beat Utica.
Dustin Tokarski stopped 26 of 27 shots for the win.
The IceCaps, 16-9-5-3, had two wins, two losses and a shootout loss on the trip. They returned home Sunday, and will begin preparing for a two-game weekend series against the Portland Pirates Friday and Saturday.
They’re the first two of six straight games at Mile One for the IceCaps.
Since coming over from the Springfield Falcons in the Christian Thomas trade, Lucas Lessio has two goals and three assists in six games for St. John’s ... After starting every IceCaps game this season, rookie Michael McCarron missed games against the Binghamton Senators on New Years Eve and Utica ... Only Morgan Ellis, Gabriel Dumont and Jeremy Gregoire have appeared in each of the IceCaps’ 33 games this season ... Sven Andrighetto was reassigned to St. John’s just before the Winter Classic, but was recalled again Saturday now that the Canadiens’ Dale Weise is out two to three weeks ...