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Training Camp

Kris Letang feels more work equals more success

Penguins defenseman going hard during training camp to play big minutes during season

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Defenseman Kris Letang was first on and last off the ice Sept. 23, the first day of Pittsburgh Penguins training camp.

That wasn't surprising. Coaches and teammates have touted Letang's work ethic throughout his NHL career, which is entering its 11th season.

But Letang, 29, feels he has to put in even more effort this season to thrive in the up-tempo, demanding system implemented by coach Mike Sullivan.

"It helps my conditioning," Letang said. "I try to push myself every day to make sure that when we start the season I can play those kind of minutes. … I took a good month off [after the season]. I was a little bit banged up, so I didn't do anything for a full month."

He didn't waste much time getting back into his routine once camp opened. The Penguins were on the ice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for two sessions that totaled more than an hour of work. But when most of his teammates left for the locker room, Letang remained for time skating, stick handling and took shots at goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Video: DET@PIT: Letang beats Coreau with slap shot

The extra work is something the Penguins have come to expect from Letang, but that doesn't make it any less impressive.

"I think, for me, that's just an indication of [Letang's] competitive level and how much he loves to play the game," Sullivan said. "And that's why I think he's as good of a player as he is. He has that insatiable appetite for the game. I would never discourage that from any of our players and I love that about him, that he wants to be on the ice, he wants to get better."

It would be hard for Letang to top last season, when he set career highs with 16 goals and 67 points in 71 games, and was fourth in the League with an average ice time of 26:56 per game, also a career high.

All that ice time didn't affect him much during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Letang had three goals and 15 points in 23 games, and his average ice time of 28:52 per game was more than anyone who played more than one round in the postseason.

However, things really didn't come together for Letang and the Penguins until Dec. 12, when Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach.

To that point the Penguins were 15-10-3, and Letang had one goal and 14 points in 25 games. He said Johnston's firing provided fresh motivation.

Under Sullivan, Letang had 15 goals and 53 points in 46 games, averaging 27:19 of ice time per game. That's more than one minute per game more than the 26:15 he averaged with Johnston coaching.

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm6: Crosby feeds Letang for a 2-1 lead

"Nobody wants to see a coaching change," Letang said. "It always means that it's not going the right way. When you see that, it's kind of a new opportunity to show your coach what you're capable of and I kind of saw the challenge coming in. I knew there was going to be some change and I think that was the turning point."

Letang's increased production was one reason the Penguins finished second in the Metropolitan Division and won the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins have the luxury of returning nearly their entire Cup-winning lineup intact; the most significant departure was defenseman Ben Lovejoy, an unrestricted free agent who signed with the New Jersey Devils on July 1.

Other absences from training camp were because of players taking part in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. But no matter who was on the ice, Letang said his focus was his conditioning and putting in the work needed to succeed with the significant workload he'll have as the Penguins play their first full season under Sullivan.

"It's hard to manage your energy," Letang said. "It was a long season last year. A lot of guys were playing injured at the end of the year too. You take the summer to heal up and get all the rest, and to manage your energy and make sure you don't try to do too much out there." 

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