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Letang cleared for contact

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has been cleared for contact and can skate with his teammates in their informal skates and at the beginning of training camp, which begins this Friday. 

Letang has been rehabbing this summer following surgery on a herniated disc in his neck in mid-April.

"My health is pretty good. I've been working out all summer," Letang said. "I was restrained at the beginning. I got the clearance to start running and skating around July 5th. I've had a pretty full summer."

Though he has taken an important step in his recovery, it's still unknown if Letang will be ready for the team's season-opener on Oct. 4 vs. St. Louis.

"We'll go day by day," Letang said. "I got cleared to have contact and skate with the team. We'll see how it goes the first few days and we'll increase the workload."

Letang, 30, has overcome a lot of injuries during his 10-plus year NHL career. He's recovered from everything from the typical sprains and strains to the more serious stroke.

In fact, Letang was named the team's Bill Masterton nominee, which is awarded to the player that perseveres against adversity, in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and '15 after recovering from the stroke, missing just 26 games. Letang still deals with the lingering effects of that stroke every day.

Letang was limited to just 41 games in the 2016-17 season after suffering the herniated disc in his neck. The injury wasn't a result of a one-time collision or hit, but due to an accumulation of hits over time.

Letang was shutdown in late February and tried to rehab the injury without surgery in an attempt to return to action. However, after time the team and Letang decided it was best to have surgery. He missed his team's entire championship run, but was a visible presence around the team.

Although Letang has experienced a lot in his life, even he was surprised by how mentally taxed he was post-neck surgery.

"When I woke up it was hard. It was a tough first two weeks," he said. "There is a lot that goes through your mind. After that I started getting more confidence when I was able to work out. I got my confidence back that I was going to be healthy."

Letang is the undisputed leader of the Pens' defensive corps. He is the most gifted and talented blueliner on the team, a former Norris Trophy nominee as NHL defenseman of the year and three-time All-Star.

Letang is also the club's top workhorse, logging a remarkable 25-plus minutes per game on average over the past three years, including a career-high 26:56 per game in 2015-16.

Letang's goal this season is to return to his former stature and playing time.

"I will. That's what I want to do," he said. "That's part of my game and the way that I play. That's the goal. I have no expectation. I'm going to go like I always have and go from there."

One thing is for sure, Letang does not want to relinquish any playing time.

"I'm healthy. (Playing a lot is) the only thing I know," Letang said. "I don't know why I would rest. The energy will be there for sure."

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