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Training Camp

Letang feels 'a million times better' entering Penguins training camp

Defenseman refreshed after longer layoff, aims to return to form

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Kris Letang couldn't help but laugh when asked how much better his body feels now than it did a year ago.

"A million times better. It's not even close," the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman said after an informal practice Tuesday. "It feels good to have had a good session all over the summer and be able to skate."

The neck surgery that ended his 2016-17 season after 41 games is behind Letang. So is last season, when he had 51 points (nine goals, 42 assists) but consistent defensive lapses. Following a full offseason of training, Letang expects to return to form.

Video: Kris Letang lands at No. 13 on the list

"I had a little bit of time to rest and I was able to maintain a workload all summer. It was good," the 31-year-old said. "I was able to do everything I wanted all over the summer and trained to prepare for this year."

Letang is three years removed from his most productive NHL season. He had an NHL career-high 16 goals and 67 points in 71 games during the 2015-16 season, and 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 23 games during the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup in 2016.

Following a longer offseason, Letang said he feels like that same player.

"Mentally, you're more sharp [when you're able to train] so you can keep a high pace all game and be able to process everything the same way," Letang said. "If you don't train, yes you can have a good shift. But when the fatigue starts creeping on you, you start making bad decisions."

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has suggested limiting Letang's minutes to about 24 per game. He has averaged more than 25 in each of his past four seasons.

If Letang had his way, he'd play the same amount. He said he believes his performance will dictate his playing time.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Letang pots one-timer through traffic

"I'm telling you that if I play well, I play well. You put me on the ice," Letang said. "If I don't, obviously you don't want that guy on the ice. So that's just how it's going to go, I guess."

Scaling back Letang's playing time has been discussed at various points since he had a stroke Jan. 29, 2014. It became a recurring topic last season after Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he would like Letang to retain his style of play while making an effort to avoid putting himself in danger.

Letang admitted he struggled with his normal workload early last season, but he doesn't see that being the case again.

"At the beginning, the middle, it was different," Letang said. "I never had surgery before. Knock on wood, it doesn't happen again. So it was a little different. It was a first for me. Now I feel good and that's the most important [thing]."

Entering his 13th NHL season, Letang is looking forward to starting fresh. That's after expressing his frustrations throughout last season, including on March 6.

"It was not so much, 'Oh, I can't play anymore.' It was lapses," Letang said then. "It was one good shift, one bad one, one good shift. At the end of the day, people remember, and I remember, my bad shifts."

Six months later, Letang is done looking back.

"I think we talked about it. It's not like I went home and was satisfied," he said. "I don't really need to add anything about it. Just have to move on."

How Letang plans to move on is simple. He will approach training camp the same way he has throughout his time with the Penguins.

"Try to come into camp, get into game shape and try to just build up my game throughout camp and the beginning of the season," Letang said. "Try to do what I do."

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