’s talents are obvious to anyone who watches him on the ice. All you have to do is observe his speed, smooth skating stride and comfort with handling the puck. But while his offensive abilities get most of the attention, the second-year defenseman has quietly taken major steps in the defensive zone.
“Defensively, I’m not nervous like I was,” Letang said. “I know where to position myself and I always have to be in good body position. I think it’s the biggest thing I’ve improve so far.”
Letang, who is only 21-years old, still has plenty of time to mature and grow on both ends of the ice. His biggest asset may be his speed, which not only allows him push the play offensively but to recover defensively as well.
“He’s labeled as just an offensive guy,” teammate and occasional defensive partner Brooks Orpik
said. “I think in his mind he still thinks he’s an offensive guy. I think he tends to be more of a defensive defenseman than an offensive defenseman. I know a lot of fans still want to push him to be offensive. He’s still so young. Maybe he will develop that later as he goes. I think the offense that he provides is making transition passes and passes out of his zone.”
Letang, who has compiled 14 points this season, will demonstrate his skills at the NHL’s All-Star festivities in Montreal after being named to the NHL’s YoungStars Team for the second consecutive year. Letang will join the Sophomore Team.
“It’s an honor,” Letang said. “It’s always an honor to represent our team and our organization because I have a lot of respect for the Penguins organization. They did a lot for me to get me to come to play here and it’s great to represent the league.”
The event will be even more special for Letang because he’ll be going home. The 6-foot, 201-pound blueliner hails from the city of Montreal and it’s always special when he can play in his hometown.
“It’s going to be a little more exciting for me than all the other players,” Letang said. “For French-Canadians it’s always nice to play in Montreal. It’s a hockey city like (Pittsburgh). There are a lot of hockey fans.”
It’s always an honor to represent our team and our organization because I have a lot of respect for the Penguins organization. They did a lot for me to get me to come to play here and it’s great to represent the league. - Kris Letang
Even more special than playing in Montreal will be the fact that Letang will have a chance to share the honorable moment with family and friends.
“It’s great, all my friends and family are going to be there,” he said. “I don’t have a chance to see my family that much and my friends. It’s going to be great to see them and spend some time with them. It’s always exciting to play in anything like this when you have your family around.”
Letang was honing his talents at Val-d’Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when the Penguins selected the defenseman in the third round (62nd overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
While Sidney Crosby
garnered most of the attention at training camp that year, Letang nearly cracked the Penguins’ lineup at the age of 18. He was one of the final players to be sent back to juniors. Letang had his initial taste of the NHL in 2006-07 when he made seven appearances for Pittsburgh - scoring two goals - before being sent back to juniors.
“Compared to juniors, in juniors even if you (make) a mistake you always have the speed or the time to get back in time,” Letang said. “But (in the NHL) if you (make) a mistake there is a goal or a scoring chance. That’s why at the beginning you are a little bit nervous because you don’t want to allow the other team to score some goals.”
“When you first come up you don’t want to make mistakes,” Orpik agreed. “You’re kind of in awe. You want to fly under the radar and make sure you stay here.”
Letang earned a spot on Pittsburgh’s roster last season. He played in 63 games, scoring six goals and adding 11 assists for 17 points. Letang also made 16 appearances during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run.
Throughout the season, Letang became more and more comfortable at the professional level and with his role on the team.
“The more you play the more you gain confidence and more you get better in your zone and every aspect of the game,” Letang said. “Every game I get more and more comfortable in the NHL. Just to be confident about yourself, believe in yourself and your abilities to play hockey.”
I don’t think he was ever lacking confidence but it just comes with experience. The more games you get under your belt you get a little bit more confident, especially as a defenseman - Brooks Orpik
“I don’t think he was ever lacking confidence but it just comes with experience,” Orpik concurred. “The more games you get under your belt you get a little bit more confident, especially as a defenseman. You just get used to guys around the league, especially guys in your division because you play them so many times. You learn their tendencies. I think he’s getting more comfortable with that kind of stuff.”
Letang has come a long way since his days in juniors and is establishing himself as an NHL defenseman.
“A lot of times as rookies you just try to stay here rather than play in the minors,” Orpik said. “He’s not just trying to get by now. He’s trying to make an impression and make a difference.”
“My confidence is always going up,” Letang added. “I’m skating more with the puck. Back in juniors one of my strengths was my ability to skate with the puck and get up the ice and now I’m skating with my confidence. My confidence is growing and I’m getting better.”