The Penguins inducted alumnus Paul Coffey
into the team’s Hall of Fame during the 2007-08 season.
Coffey, who played for Pittsburgh from 1987-92 and won a Stanley Cup title with the club, attended a home game at Mellon Arena.
As he gazed down at the ice, there was one player that grabbed his eye. He leaned over to his former teammate and ROOT Sports color analyst Bob Errey and asked:
“Who is 58?”
“That’s (Kris) Letang,” Errey responded.
“That’s a good player,” Coffey said.
Letang was a 20-year-old rookie for the Pens at the time and just at the beginning of his NHL career. But on first glance, Coffey saw his talent.
“I could just see it,” Coffey said. “Being a defenseman and playing that way he really caught my eye, the way he skated, the way he moved the puck. He was really heady on the ice. I’ve watched him ever since. He’s a player that I really like to watch.
“When he’s on the ice he’s not afraid to make a play. That’s why I enjoy watching him.”
Coffey, 54, was also quite the accomplished player. He won the Norris Trophy as NHL’s best defenseman three times, played in 14 All-Star Games, won four Stanley Cup championships and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Coffey believes the Letang has what it takes to win the Norris Trophy. And he would know.
“To win an award you have to go bell-to-bell. That being said, does he have the potential to do that? 100 percent,” Coffey said. “He has a good attitude; he thinks he’s as good as anybody, which he is. That’s what you got to do.”
Letang, 28, has been a huge reason for the Pens mid-season turnaround. He’s already set career highs across the board in goals (15), assists (44) and points (59) in just 66 games. Letang ranks fourth in the NHL with an average of 26:54 minutes per game, behind only Erik Karlsson, Ryan Suter and Drew Doughty. He recorded a career-high 35:14 minutes Tuesday night against Buffalo.
“The last two months he’s been as good as any defenseman in the league,” Coffey said.
There is a mutual respect between the former and current Penguin greats.
“I really respect the guys who love the game and respect the guys who came before them. That’s (Letang) to a T,” Coffey said. “As retired players we are very respectful of today’s players. You give them their space. Kris has come out of his way to always make me feel welcomed back, and always wanting to pick my brain.”
What do the two All-Star blueliners discuss?
“It’s not like I’m telling him what to do. He knows what to do,” Coffey said. “But when he openly asks you what you thought of his game, it’s nice to share a couple things.
“He’s got steely eyes. When you talk, he’s looking at you. He wants you to tell him something. You can’t help but be engaged with a player like that.”
Coffey and his son made a trip to watch the Pens practice earlier this season in Toronto.
“Letang came out of his way to say hi and made my son feel welcomed. That’s good stuff,” Coffey said.
And of course, they talked hockey.
“We talked about the (Pens’) game (the night before against Toronto), we talked about his game. He’s very, very receptive. And he listens,” Coffey said. “He’s a smart kid and student of the game.
“To me, it looks like he has some fun. He’s a good family man. He enjoys the game.”