EDMONTON, AB - You’re not likely to see centre Mark Letestu on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle when the puck drops in the season opener against the St. Louis Blues for the season opener.
“I think that’s one thing about me, I know who I am. I kind of know where I fit,” said Letestu. “If Edmonton called me and told me to anchor the power play and play the first line, I’d laugh at them.”
That doesn’t mean Letestu, who agreed to terms with the Oilers on a three-year contract when free agency opened Wednesday, won’t make an impact. He just knows his game, as a versatile depth centre.
Letestu, 30, has carved out a six-year NHL career since entering the league with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2009-10 season. He played just 10 games in the show that year, spending the majority of his time in the American Hockey League.
Letestu knew if he wanted to stick up top he’d have to stand out. He decided to improve his versatility.
“Early on, it came from wanting to stay in the league, to be quite honest with you,” said Letestu. When you’re in the minors and you get the call to be sent back down, you find ways to stay in the NHL. For me, that was trying to wear a lot of different hats. The more hats you wear the more difficult it is to take you out of the lineup. To be able to do that, either special teams stuff or on the wing, I’ve always prepared myself to be in any role.
“Now that I’ve kind of established myself as an NHL player, it’s proven to be one of my more dominating assets as a player and has helped me stay in the league as long as I have.”
Former Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero had a chat with Letestu and gave him some advice that he’s carried with him throughout his career.
“(Shero) made that very clear to me early on that if I wanted to be an NHL player I had to develop some of the small things in my game, whether it was faceoff ability or just some of the little puck battles that go unnoticed and to just have a greater appreciation of the smaller details that allow you to win hockey games,” said Letestu.
Letestu packaged the passion for the game he observed from his favourite player, Saku Koivu, and the advice he received early on his career to grow into the player he is today. Letestu has played 318 NHL games for the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. He has 127 NHL points (58-69-127) and has also played 17 playoff games, scoring a goal and adding three assists.
Photo by Getty Images.
He now continues his career in Edmonton where he figures to a man the middle in the Oilers bottom six. Edmonton traded their fourth-line centre, Boyd Gordon, on Wednesday, in exchange for winger Lauri Korpikoski. Letestu has been over 50% on his draws since coming into the league and he is a right-handed shot, a perceived need for the Oilers.
“I see myself as a fit as a depth centre,” said Letestu. “Somebody who provides insurance for injuries and somebody who can move around the lineup, whether it be both wings or move up into the top six and play with skilled guys if need be. I’m a versatile guy that way. The expectations I think for me are to provide some veteran leadership and to provide some help for these young guys to grow and to hopefully help turn this franchise into a winner.”
For Letestu, signing in Edmonton signifies somewhat of a homecoming. The centre is a native of Elk Point, AB, just under two and a half hours away from Alberta’s capital. While living in the heart of Oil Country, Letestu admits he didn’t grow up a fan of the blue and orange but couldn’t help but pay attention.
“I wasn’t (a fan). And if I told you I was my friends would all call me on it. I was a Canadiens fan. But being from Elk Point, everybody there is an Oilers fan,” said Letestu. “It’s tough to get away from following them. My in-laws have been season ticket holders for a while now so the fact that I’m going there is going to make a lot of guys happy. I don’t think they have to buy the Centre Ice package anymore.”
Letestu brings his family back to Alberta, including his two small children. He has a third on the way, due at the end of this month. In addition to the family and friends benefits of signing with Edmonton, Letestu looked at the growth and potential of the Oilers before making his decision. He had interest from other teams.
Photo by Getty Images.
“I think when I looked at Edmonton, and the situation at hand, the new coaching staff, the new management, I know the ownership being great and the new building coming. There is a lot of buzz around the team, a lot of excitement,” said Letestu.
“For me to get an opportunity to be a part of that I think is something special. Especially, to do it in front of largely a lot of family and friends. Being from Northern Alberta, and I know what it’s like to play in that building as an opponent. But to be a part of the organization, being one of the guys cheered in that building and in the future one I think is going to be really special.”