Kris Letang wasn't able to get a full summer of training in 2017 after undergoing neck surgery last April, and it affected him more than he ever expected.
Fortunately, he entered this offseason healthy and able to train like he normally does - so needless to say, he's feeling much better now than he did at this time last year.
"Like a million times better," Letang said with a laugh. "It's not even close. It feels good to have good sessions all throughout the summer and be able to skate out there."
It was the first time Letang had undergone a major surgery and a major rehabilitation, so he wasn't sure quite what to expect. Turns out, the biggest challenge for Letang last season was handling the schedule - which included an NHL-high 19 back-to-backs following a second straight Stanley Cup championship - after not being cleared to skate until July.
Letang has always been an incredible athlete, gifted with the ability to effortlessly handle a huge workload, so he figured he would be fine once he got over the initial adjustment period. But Letang didn't have time to get his conditioning to where he wanted it to be, and was never quite able to get back to normal since he was playing catch-up in-season - which resulted in a campaign filled with highs, lows and general inconsistency.
Now, everything is where Letang wants it to be after maintaining a proper workload all summer and balancing that with plenty of rest (well, as much as a new parent can get after he and his wife, Catherine, welcomed their second child on July 5, a daughter named Victoria), so he expects this season to be much different.
"Mentally, you're more sharp, so you can keep a high pace all game and be able to process everything the same way," Letang explained. "If you don't train, yes, you can have good shifts, but when the fatigue starts creeping in on you, you start making bad decisions. So to have the whole summer to train, my body feels good, my cardio is good, conditioning is good."
Letang spent the summer working with his usual trainer, Jon Chaimberg, at the Adrenaline Performance Center in his native Quebec with Penguins teammate Daniel Sprong.
Letang, who posted numerous videos on his Instagram throughout the summer of him doing various training exercises, said his approach is the same as it's always been.
"I just train at a high pace and just try to be really fit," he said. "That's it."
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told reporters earlier this summer that it could be wise to limit Letang's minutes to both help the team and help his longevity, which the 31-year old defenseman said he doesn't have an opinion on. His focus is more on putting last season behind him and moving forward.
"Just try to come into camp and get into game shape, try to just build on my game throughout camp and the beginning of the season," Letang said. "Try to do what I do."