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Training Camp

Letang hopes to play in Penguins opener

Defenseman cleared for contact prior to training camp after neck surgery in April

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

SEWICKLEY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang hopes to play when the regular season begins Oct. 4 after being cleared for contact entering training camp.

Before participating in the Penguins' 30th annual Summer Sticks Golf Classic at Allegheny Country Club on Tuesday, Letang said he felt healthy but did not want to guarantee he would be available when the Penguins play the St. Louis Blues at PPG Paints Arena to open the season. He had season-ending neck surgery on April 13 to repair a herniated disk.

"Health is pretty good," Letang said. "I've been working out all summer. I was restrained at the beginning, but I got the clearance to start running and skating around July 5. Pretty full summer. … We'll just start and go day by day. I got cleared to have contact and skate with the team. We'll see how it goes the first few days and we'll increase the workload."

Letang finished second to Justin Schultz among Penguins defensemen last season with 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) despite missing 41 games with various injuries (Schultz had 51 points; 12 goals, 39 assists). At several points during the season, coach Mike Sullivan said wanted Letang to adjust his style and avoid unnecessary hits.

Video: Kris Letang takes the No. 8 spot

However, Letang said he doesn't plan to change the way he plays. He averaged 25;31 of ice time last season and hopes to average more than 25 minutes again this season playing his usual fast-paced, aggressive style.

"[Playing at least 25:00 is] what I want to do," Letang said. "That's part of my game, the way I play. So, obviously, it's the goal. I have no expectation. I'm just going to go like I always did and go from there.

"There's certain things to avoid, that's for sure. But it's not going to change my game."

Letang also said he doesn't plan to sit out any games while available.

"I'm healthy. That's the only thing I know," he said. "So, I don't know why I would rest. The energy is going to be there, for sure."

Letang last played against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 2, when he had one assist in 28:49 of ice time. He had 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in his final 12 games.

The Penguins announced April 5 that Letang would have neck surgery and need 4-6 months to recover. He didn't speak to the media again until May 30, when the Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Letang said he was afraid at only one moment during his recovery.

"When I woke up [from surgery]," Letang said. "When I woke up, it was hard. I'm not going to lie. It was a tough first two weeks. A lot goes through your mind, but after that I got more confidence. When the guys were playing, I was actually able to work out, do little things. I got my confidence back then that I was going to be healthy."

Pittsburgh repeated as Stanley Cup champion without Letang, which he predicted when his surgery was first announced. That doesn't mean his teammates didn't miss him.

"He's such a key part of our team," Schultz said. "Even when he was out, he was around and helping us out. To have him back on the ice is going to be huge for us."

Letang was proud of what the Penguins accomplished with him sidelined. His return is keeping expectations high this season.

"They showed that we have a lot of depth and were able to win," Letang said. "It's great. Maybe it will give them confidence. We have more tools coming back in the next season.

"The main guys, the key guys, are still the same. We have the same core group. The younger guys have more experience, so it's just going to help our team."

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