CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said Tuesday he is expecting to be back on the ice soon.
The Penguins on April 5 announced Letang would miss the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a herniated disk in his neck and need 4-6 months to recover from surgery, which could take him into the start of training camp next season.
"The recovery is going really well," said Letang, who had the surgery April 13. "I've been starting to work out, doing a lot of things off the ice, so everything is good.
"I wore my skates a couple of times. I have a couple more weeks before [my] next appointment. Then I'll be cleared for everything."
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Letang spoke in the same room where his injury was announced in April. On that day, he said he believed the Penguins could reach the Stanley Cup Final without him. Nearly two months later, they have proven him right: Pittsburgh won Game 1 and leads the Nashville Predators in the best-of-7 series, with Game 2 at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
"I'm really proud," Letang said. "I think, a month and a half ago, I was sitting here and I was really confident that we could go all the way and win. When you have a leader like [Sidney Crosby], you have [Evgeni Malkin], the core group, they're just unbelievable players. They care for each other.
"When you have those types of guys on your team, you know you have a chance."
Many at the time dismissed Letang's optimism as simply saying the right thing in that specific moment.
"As for the people that were rolling their eyes ... I don't know. You've all seen Sidney Crosby's demeanor and what he wants to accomplish," Letang said. "When you have a guy you can look up to, I was confident to say that in front of a lot of people. That's what's happened."
Letang watched the Penguins defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators to reach the Cup Final.
Video: PIT@STL: Letang chips puck home on a breakaway
"He's been around a little bit more lately. After the surgery he couldn't do much for a while. It is great to have him back around the guys," Crosby said. "He's been really supportive. I'm sure it's not easy for him watching, but it's been great to have him around the guys. You can see his spirits are high and he feels good, so that's the best thing we can see."
The Penguins could have used Letang, who last played Feb. 21, when defenseman Trevor Daley missed four games with a lower-body injury before returning May 17. Letang's presence would have helped when defenseman Justin Schultz missed four games with an upper-body injury in the Eastern Conference Final.
Instead, Letang remained in the press box, where his exuberance has been noticed.
"I think when I'm sitting in the box up there, the people next to me don't really like me," Letang said. "I'm screaming. I don't work the best when watching."
But Letang has been more than a cheerleader. He's traveled with the Penguins, sat in on some coaching meetings and has provided an extra set of eyes for Pittsburgh's staff.
"We have a defensemen group, so I try to look out for options that they could use out there," Letang said. "I try to bring my input on what I feel on other players, what their tendencies are. I try to help, but I'm not a big voice out there."
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has Letang announce the starting lineup before each game and has ensured he retains a valuable role within the locker room.
"I spoke with him about it," Sullivan said. "He's an important part of this team. I know his teammates have so much respect for [him] and we think it's important that he stays in the mix. He's another one of those guys that's just a great teammate.
"He cares so much about the Penguins and trying to help them win, whether he's in the lineup or not in the lineup."
Sullivan admitted he'd rather have Letang, who had 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 41 games during his 11th NHL season, in the lineup. It's obvious Letang would prefer that as well. But he's come to grips with his situation.
"I'm really happy for those guys," Letang said. "They've worked really hard and, like I said, they're caring for each other. To see them at this level, at this stage, it's fun to watch. I'm happy to watch."