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Preseason Buzz: Letang aims to reclaim power-play role with Penguins

Defenseman working to return after neck surgery, practicing with top man-advantage unit

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Welcome to the 2017 preseason!

This is a busy time, with preseason games underway, rookies looking to make a name for themselves and veterans aiming to lock down roster spots. Each day, we will have all the updates of note right here.

Here is the preseason news for Saturday:

 

Letang aims to reclaim power-play role with Penguins

Defenseman Kris Letang manned the point on the top power-play unit during the Pittsburgh Penguins' practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Saturday.

Letang, who is returning from season-ending neck surgery and hasn't played a game since Feb. 21, split time with defenseman Justin Schultz on the top unit. Schultz quarterbacked the power play when Letang missed 41 games with various injuries during the regular season and throughout the playoffs.

In a breakout 2016-17 season, Schultz led Pittsburgh's defensemen with 51 points (12 goals, 39 assists), including 20 (three goals, 17 assists) on the power play, in 78 games. Letang finished second with 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 41 games with 14 (two goals, 12 assists) on the power play.

Letang, who was named an alternate captain on Saturday, would like to reclaim his role as the lone defenseman on the top power-play unit.

"I want to be the same player I was before," Letang said. "I don't see any reason why I wouldn't be able to [play on the top power-play unit]. Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old ways, playing over 25 minutes in all situations."

Captain Sidney Crosby would also like to see Letang return to those old ways.

"He's just so good at moving out there," Crosby said. "His skill and the way he can kind of skate and create space. He has a big shot from up there. He's played there for a while. He's comfortable and we'll all just have to get in sync again."

Letang did not play in Pittsburgh's first three preseason games, but is listed in the lineup for the Hockeyville USA game against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN). He said the Penguins don't have a specific plan regarding his availability for the preseason.

"I can't wait to see how it goes," he said. "It should be fun."

-- Wes Crosby

 

Marleau, Matthews get power-play time together with Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau played together as Toronto Maple Leafs teammates for the first time Friday in a 3-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.

The two skated on different lines at even strength but were together on the top power-play unit along with defenseman Morgan Rielly and forwards William Nylander and Leo Komarov.

 

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"Maybe as a new guy [I was] forcing some plays here and there, but we'll see what the coaches say and see what the tape says," said Marleau, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with Toronto on July 2 after 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks. "I think we had some pretty good looks once we started focusing on shooting the puck and not trying to get too cute. We were getting some loose pucks around the net and looked dangerous."

The Maple Leafs were 1-for-9 on the power play. Rielly beat goaltender Linus Ullmark with a shot to the glove side after an end-to-end rush to give Toronto a 1-0 lead at 3:23 of the second period.

"It was good. We had plenty of opportunities to work on it, not all the results that we wanted, but to get one was nice, and I thought we got some good looks," Rielly said. "The more reps you get, the easier it gets. [Matthews and Marleau] are going to build some chemistry and they're both extremely smart players, extremely great skaters and have great skill. You let them work with each other long enough, they're going to be great."

Marleau was complimentary of Matthews, who won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL in 2016-17.

"It's been fun to watch, that's for sure," Marleau said. "How strong he is on pucks, his vision, he's got a lot of great tools, but what impresses me the most is probably how strong he competes for pucks."

-- Dave McCarthy

 

Stamkos has two assists for Lightning in first game in 10 months

It took all of 33 seconds for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos to get on the scoresheet in his first game since he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 15.

Stamkos made a no-look, behind-the-back pass to set up Victor Hedman's goal in a 3-1 win against the Nashville Predators at Amalie Arena. Stamkos had a second assist later in the first period on Nikita Kucherov's goal during a 5-on-3 power play.

The Lightning captain played center on a line with Kucherov and Brayden Point. Stamkos had 19:05 of ice time on 19 shifts.

"When you don't play for as long as I have it's tough to see how the body is going to respond," Stamkos said. "I couldn't have felt any better tonight than I expected so that was a very positive thing."

Hedman, a Norris Trophy finalist last season, said it was good to see Stamkos come out strong and make a highlight-reel play on his first shift.

"I knew he knew that I was there," Hedman said of Stamkos' set-up pass. "I saw him looking at me before I got the puck so I was trying to stay in an area for him and he put it right on the tape with no look."

Ryan Callahan played his first game for the Lightning since Jan. 7. The forward missed 64 games last season because of multiple hip surgeries.

Callahan had an assist in the third period on Yanni Gourde's goal and finished the game with three hits and two blocked shots in 12:38 of ice time.

"First period it felt like I missed nine months," Callahan said. "First period and a half felt like everything was moving pretty quick for me but then I thought I settled down pretty good."

-- Corey Long

 

Oilers rookie Yamamoto scores fourth goal of preseason

Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto scored two goals in a 5-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place, giving the No. 22 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft four goals in his first three preseason games.

"I'm not surprised because we knew we had a very intelligent, highly skilled player coming in," coach Todd McLellan said. "The adaptation part goes with the smart part. He knows how to use his size and his ability to play with his size quite well."

Yamamoto (5-foot-8, 154 pounds) scored in his preseason debut, a 5-4 win at the Calgary Flames on Monday, and again in a 4-1 victory at the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.

Against the Canucks, Yamamoto one-timed a pass from center Chris Kelly past goaltender Richard Bachman at 5:17 of the second period to give Edmonton a 2-1 lead.

At 12:30 of the third period, Yamamoto one-timed a pass from Leon Draisaitl past Bachman to make it 5-2.

"It's unbelievable being able to play with a world-class player like that, and sharing the ice with him is unbelievable," Yamamoto, 18, said of playing with Draisaitl. "It almost seems surreal, but he's a really good guy, always talking to me and really calms my nerves on the ice."

Yamamoto had an opportunity to score a third goal into an empty net with Bachman pulled for an extra attacker late in the third period, but he opted to pass instead of attempting a long shot from just outside of the Oilers' blue line.

"It's really impressive," Draisaitl said. "He understands the game really well. He's a fearless little guy. He doesn't shy away from getting in there, and that's the most important thing. He has a really good hockey sense and a knack for finding the net and making plays."

The Oilers host the Jets in a preseason game Saturday (9 p.m. ET; NHL.TV, TSN3).

-- Derek Van Diest

 

Golden Knights return top two picks in 2017 NHL Draft to junior teams

The Vegas Golden Knights on Friday returned 18-year-old forwards Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki, their top two picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, to their junior teams.

The Golden Knights selected Glass with the No. 6 pick. He will return to Portland of the Western Hockey League. Suzuki, who was chosen No. 13, will return to Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League.

The Golden Knights' third first-round selection in 2017, 18-year-old defenseman Erik Brannstrom, is playing this season for HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League. He was selected with the No. 15 pick.

In addition to Glass and Suzuki, Vegas returned defensemen Dylan Coghlan, 19, and Nicolas Hague, 18, to their junior teams. Forwards Bryce Gervais and Stephen MacAulay, and defensemen Kenney Morrison and Dmitry Osipov were sent to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

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