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Inside Scoop: All-Star Letang, DeSmith extension and more

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens' morning skate prior to taking on the Anaheim Ducks...

Hey now, you're an All-Star

Better late than never for Kris Letang. 

The Pens defenseman was voted by fans to appear in his third NHL All-Star Game, which will be in San Jose the weekend of Jan. 25-26. 

"It feels good. There are so many good players in this league," Letang said. "It's fun to see the fans rally behind you and try to push you in. It makes you feel special, for me personally."

This season, fans were permitted a chance to vote in the final player for each division in the All-Star Game, known as the "Last Men In" vote. Letang, 31, will join teammate Sidney Crosby on the Metro Division team. 

"To be voted by the fans makes it more special," Letang said. "To see how much our fan base is committed to our team, they're really behind us whether you're having a good year or not. It's just special. The Penguins fan base has always been huge for us."

Despite being the last man in, Letang no doubt belongs on the team with his incredible season thus far. His 10 goals are tied for third among all NHL blueliners while his 26:05 minutes per game stand at fourth. 

"It's fun to see the work you put in that somebody recognizes it," Letang said. 

DeSmith re-signs

Four years ago, goaltender Casey DeSmith signed with the Pens organization to an AHL-only deal, hoping one day to work his way up to the NHL. 

On Friday, he signed a three-year contract extension with Pittsburgh that will keep him in the NHL through the 2021-22 season with an average annual value of $1.25 million.

"I'm happy we were able to get something done," DeSmith said. "Having some stability, it's been a long time coming for me. I've been all over the place in my career. Being able to sign an extension with the Penguins, it's where I wanted to be. I love the guys, I love the staff, I love Pittsburgh, so it's where I wanted to end up."

DeSmith, 27, has handled most of the goaltending duties for the Pens so far this season as starter Matt Murray has missed significant time due to various injuries. DeSmith has earned a 12-7-4 mark with a 2.47 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Last season, DeSmith's 2.40 GAA and .921 save percentage both led the club. 

"He's deserving, we're thrilled for him," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's worked extremely hard, he's come up the hard way. He's earned every opportunity that he's been given. 

"He has played solid, consistent hockey all season long. When Matt was injured he had to carry the load for us. He did a really good job. His numbers are tops in the league over his body of work this season. He's given this team a chance to win night in and night out."

DeSmith signed his initial minor-league deal in 2015 with the Pens. After two solid seasons - one in which he posted a 2.01 goals-against average to team with Tristan Jarry for the lowest goals against in the American League - DeSmith signed his first NHL contract on July 1, 2017. 

He made his NHL debut on Oct. 29, 2017 at Winnipeg in a relief effort, and recorded his first win at Los Angeles on Jan. 18, 2018. DeSmith will likely get the start Saturday night at Staples Center, the site of his first-career win.

"I definitely have to wake up every day and pinch myself," DeSmith said. "It's a privilege to come to the rink everyday and get dressed next to these guys. To have three more years of that, I'm excited."

Pettersson returns

Pens defenseman Marcus Pettersson is making his first trip back to Anaheim - the team that originally drafted him in the second round (38th overall) of 2014. 

"It's great to be back here," Pettersson said. "See the arena and the ice. Hopefully we can get out of here with a win, too.

"It's my first time coming back. Even though we played these guys in Pittsburgh once, a little bit (of nerves)."

Pettersson joined the Penguins on Dec. 3 in exchange for forward Daniel Sprong. Since that time, Pettersson has posted 6 assists and a plus-11 in 18 games for Pittsburgh. He has a four-game scoring streak entering tonight (five assists total).

"The style of play suits me well," Pettersson said of his success. "I like to move the puck quick. It's just a great fit. (Defense partner) Jack (Johnson) has helped me out a lot. It suits my style of game well I think." 

Pettersson has been an unsung hero on the team on the backend. Whether it has been diving to prevent a goal right on the goal line or using his reach to stick aside a scoring chance on a 3-on-1, Pettersson has been spectacular for Pittsburgh's defense.

"He's played extremely well for us," Sullivan said. "He's a good, young defenseman. He helps us in so many areas. He's a good defender. He has good gaps. He has a long stick. He's a mobile guy. He's hard to play against because he takes up a lot of space with his reach and mobility."

Schultz skates

Pens defenseman Justin Schultz has been skating on his own. Today he hit the ice for the first time in full gear after the team finished its morning skate. It's another big step in his road to returning to the lineup. 

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