By Shelly Anderson
Ninth-round draft picks – any league, any level -- often have a hard time making headway, but such a player for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL has taken a significant step.
Austin Lemieux has made Omaha’s 30-man protected list after being selected in the USHL Phase 2 draft in May, The Hockey News has learned.
If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he is the only son of Hall of Fame center and Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux.
Hockey fans of a certain vintage might remember Austin Lemieux as a preschool boy watching in awe as the Penguins lowered his father’s number from the Mellon Arena rafters during a pre-game ceremony on the night in late December 2000 that Mario Lemieux came out of retirement. The elder Lemieux has said one of the reasons he made a comeback was so Austin could see him play.
Lemieux is 19 now (birth year 1996). He has grown up playing hockey in the Pittsburgh area and was coached by his dad in his earlier teen years. He has not been selected in the NHL entry draft. A winger, he had 14 goals, 37 points in 31 games for the Penguins Elite under-18 team last season.
Lemieux for much of his youth playing days has been small, undoubtedly hurting his evaluations, but recently he has sprouted to 6-foot-2, although his frame is still thin. He most recently has been listed at 161 pounds. Mario stands 6-foot-4.
The Lancers must make a final roster cut to get to 23 players before the start of the season. The USHL is the only Tier I junior league in the United States.
Lemieux also was selected by the Johnstown Tomahawks in the first round, ninth overall, in the Tier II NAHL draft. Johnstown retains his NAHL rights. That town, less than two hours’ drive from Pittsburgh, is famous as the setting for the iconic hockey movie Slap Shot and this year won the Kraft Hockeyville competition. The Penguins will play a preseason game at the War Memorial there Sept. 29 against Tampa Bay.