Austin Lemieux at Penguins Development Camp (Kevin Lorenzi/The Times)
A name can be a heavy load to bear.
Living up to one can be even tougher, especially when it’s Lemieux, but that is what 20-year-old Austin Lemieux has been doing since he decided to slap on a pair of skates.
That burden comes from the fact that his father is a legend around these parts.
Not only does Mario Lemieux own the Penguins, but he’s their most storied icon after having led them to two Stanley Cups as a player and two more as an owner. He also ranks first in just about every statistical category on the franchise’s all-time list.
It's a heavy burden to carry that name while being on the ice, and that fact isn't lost on the son of "Le Magnifique."
Oh, and did we mention he’s considered to be one of the best players to ever play the game? That fact isn’t lost on his son.
"You have to be respectful when you have the Lemieux name and make sure you carry yourself well," Austin said earlier this week after completing his first day of on-ice activities during the Penguins prospect development camp. "Just approach every day like a new day."
The younger Lemieux, who stands 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, spent last season skating as a member of the Omaha Lancers in a United States Hockey League and is working towards earning a college scholarship. He hasn’t found one just yet, but that should come over the next year or so. That is typically how it works for skaters in the USHL, the top developmental league in the United States.
They hope to place kids in the NHL draft, but the USHL works just as hard to place their players in favorable positions to play in college. His coach at Omaha, Brian Kaufman, has seen a ton of development this season and feels like Lemieux is getting better each day.
“The way he thinks the game shows that Austin has a great mind that’s already at an elite level,” Kaufman said. “He puts himself in good spots both on offense and defense.
“He’s come a long way. His work level and commitment to getting better has been very good. Puts in extra time in the weight room, he’s eating right and his game has continued to get better all year long.”
In almost all of the conversations that Kaufman has had regarding Austin over the past days, weeks and months, he’s always quick to point out how much Lemieux has grown, matured and how hard he works on his game to get better.
“He’s a great kid,” Kaufman said. “Off the ice he’s a pleasure to be around, to work with, to coach. Austin is the type of kid you want on your team.”
That improvement earned him a trip to this camp, lest anyone thought he got here on the value of the name on the back of his jersey.
He picked up six goals and 14 points in 57 games with Omaha this season. It was a solid showing for a guy who was playing against tougher competition than he faced over his final two seasons with the Penguins Elite U-18 team.
"[Playing in Omaha] was a good learning experience," he said. "It's a process. It's a marathon, not a sprint. I'm just trying to get better every day."
He has work to do in terms of bulking up if he wants to thrive at the next level. Lemieux was one of the lightest skaters in camp; with only three players ranking behind him. He said he's tried to build muscle while trying not to sacrifice speed.
"The goal is just to get better," he said. "And see what I have to do to reach the NHL."
He wasn’t certain if his father was watching from somewhere in their namesake facility on Wednesday in Cranberry, but said he’s been very supportive of his career thus far. He doesn’t often get to Omaha for games, but watches them all online and provides feedback. Something he’s done snice Austin started playing, since he served as his coach earlier on in his development.
It won’t get any easier for Austin as he makes the move toward playing in college and possibly the NHL. His name will continue to keep a bigger magnifying glass on him than some of his peers, but he is comfortable with the situation and was just thrilled to get a chance to pull on the jersey that has been a part of his family since 1984.
“It’s an absolute honor. I didn’t think I would get here this year. I was hoping a little bit down the line maybe a few years of college if I had an opportunity, but it’s great for me to be here today.”