Skip to Main Content
The Official Site of the Pittsburgh Penguins

Letang Looking Strong and Feeling Motivated

While the Penguins may be without their two franchise centers to start the year, they are fortunate to have their franchise defenseman in the lineup

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

As trainer Jonathan Chaimberg was putting Kris Letang through a workout a couple of weeks before he was set to report to training camp, another client stopped to watch in amazement.

"He looks unbelievable," they commented.

Letang really has been aging like a fine wine, with Chaimberg shaking his head at how the Penguins defenseman is showing virtually no signs of slowing down at 34 years old.

"It's crazy," Chaimberg said. "He's always been the standard, but your standard when you're 24 years old is one thing. Now he's already a six-time All-Star and three-time Stanley Cup champion, and it's just unreal that he is almost getting better."

And not only is Letang looking incredibly strong - he is feeling incredibly motivated. He is entering his 15th full NHL season hungrier than ever to help the Penguins have success amidst the challenge of starting the season without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"Every single thing I tried to accomplish in the summer, or in the season - which could be video or sitting down with (assistant coach Todd Reirden) and working on different things - is all just to accomplish one goal, and one goal only," Letang said. "To win games and win a championship. So I'm excited again. I've said for the last 15 years that when you have a guy like Sid or a guy like Geno on your team, it's pretty hard not to think that you're a Cup contender. 

"Obviously, at the start of the year, we don't have those guys. But as soon as you see those names on your roster, you have to believe that you're going to go far, and you're going to try to win this."

And while Penguins may be without their two franchise centers for a period of time, they really are so fortunate to have the services of their franchise defenseman, who has not only accomplished so much for this organization - he's been through so much for this organization since they drafted him in 2005.

Letang has managed to own every single significant team record for a defenseman and capture those three Stanley Cups while dealing with numerous injuries and significant health issues. Like the stroke he suffered at age 26 and the major neck surgery he underwent right before his 30th birthday.

"I think the most important thing that people should understand about Kris is the amount he cares about the Penguins," Chaimberg said. "I've been with him 11 years, so I know what he's done. But the sacrifices he's made and the kind of team guy he is…I've been around a lot of guys who are out for themselves. They want to put up good numbers, and they're playing for their next contract, and they're sort of more worried about themselves versus the team. When it comes to Kris, anything the team says to do, he does. He's the ultimate, ultimate, ultimate professional."

In the offseason, Chaimberg works with Letang at his gym, Adrenaline Performance Center, in Montreal. And in Chaimberg's experience, there is no one that comes close to Letang when it comes to work ethic. 

You know that old saying 'hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard?' That's never an issue with Letang, which is why he's still one of the NHL's elite and is coming off a season where he tied for third in scoring amongst league blueliners with 45 points (7G-38A) in 55 games.

"A lot of people will say 'oh, he's the hardest worker in the room' about someone, but Kris is actually the hardest worker in the room. Always," Chaimberg said. "He's a great athlete, number one. People don't understand what it's like to play that many minutes a night for that many years, and the style of play, it's a very aggressive style for his size."

That was something Marcus Pettersson didn't quite realize until he first arrived in Pittsburgh a few years ago and started playing alongside the 6-foot, 201-pound blueliner.

"He's so skilled and so good on his skates, but man - he really plays hard," Pettersson said. "He eats up a lot of minutes for us. He plays in tough minutes and hard minutes, and he goes out there and plays his (butt) off for us every night."

But despite handling such a heavy workload on such a consistent basis, Chaimberg said that with age has come wisdom, as Letang has gotten smarter when it comes to listening to his body. "He's built up such a base that his strength and his endurance are on another level, so for him, he's incorporating a bit more therapy," Chaimberg explained. 

This summer, they spent more time on stretching, mobility and range of motion, and Letang would usually get treatments right after he skated. But as far as the actual training sessions themselves, if anything, the intensity got higher.

"Some guys who are successful - especially a guy who has that many Cups and has been in the league for many years - you would think he would want to slow down a bit and maybe take an extra golf day a week," Chaimberg said. "It's changed him zero. Like, he wants to be even more successful. He is still competing."

Just like the Penguins captain, Letang really does have an insatiable appetite to be at the top of his game, and that's part of what continues to drive him at this point in his career. 

"My friends, my parents, my wife… a lot of people always say why? Why don't you just take it easy, man?" Letang said with a laugh. "I'm like, I'm in this game to be the best player at all times. I'm not there to play 25 minutes, 30 minutes from 25 years old to 29 years old and after that, slow it down. No. I take pride in working really hard off the ice and being in shape and making sure my body is ready for 25-30 minutes."

Letang loves to go up against younger players so that he can try and stay ahead of them, saying "I don't want them to catch me." And Chaimberg laughed at how those kids are "freaked out" by how Letang is able to excel at everything he does, whether it's related to power and explosiveness, or if it's related to conditioning.

"It's very rare to find athletes, especially at a high level - at any level, really - who are very powerful, but at the same time, they have an amazing endurance," Chaimberg said. "Most guys are good at one of the two. He's good at both. He's explosive and he's playing 27 minutes a night, and he doesn't get tired."

Pittsburgh's 23-year-old defenseman P.O Joseph, who is also from Montreal and skated with Letang this summer, said he's actually the one pushing them - not the other way around.

"Going on the ice against him, he didn't lay off me the entire summer," Joseph said with a laugh. 

Joseph said he feels so fortunate to be able to learn from someone like Letang, taking everything from 'A to Zed' (the French name for the letter Z) from the veteran, whose leadership style is by example. Letang's longtime defense partner Brian Dumoulin said guys pay attention to the way he prepares and the way he takes care of his body, with none of it going unnoticed.

"You watch him in the conditioning skates and things like that, and it speaks for itself," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "His fitness level is off the charts. He's an extremely hardworking guy, and he really cares about this team and he cares about winning. He's not a guy that doesn't walk the walk himself. He's willing to put the work in to improve his game and get better. I think for me, that's the most powerful way that players lead."

There will certainly be a void in the absences of Crosby and Malkin, and like everyone in the Penguins dressing room, Letang understands what they're up against when it comes to holding down the fort until those two are both healthy. But Letang also understands that he has to play within himself and take what the game gives him.

"Of course, I'm going to take pride in being able to weather the storm and be able to win games, but at the end of the day, there's a big mistake that a lot of people do when things like that happen," he said. "That's to try to do everything themselves to replace those guys. Like yes, I'm an offensive guy, but I'm no Geno, I'm no Sid. I'm not going to be able to bring that much offense to the table. So I have to be the best I can be, and it's going to be a team effort."

Entering the last year of his contract, Letang wants nothing more than to finish his career with the Penguins alongside Crosby and Malkin. He loves it here, which is why he has and will continue to persevere through whatever it takes to achieve the ultimate goal.

"Honestly, I've been treated really well by our team," Letang said. "(Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle) have almost treated me like a son. So I put my body, my health on the line. And I'm always going to do it. It's just part of my work. There's nothing I want more than winning for the city, for the organization, for my teammates. I don't want anything other than that. That's the only thing I wish. I'll do anything."

View More