Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has one goal in mind for the upcoming season.
“My only goal is to play 82 games,” said Letang, who has reached that number only one other time in his career back in the 2010-11 season. “That’s my main goal. I just want to help the team all year long and not just part of it.”
Letang, 28, has dealt with back-to-back injury plagued seasons, overcoming a stroke, concussion and various other ailments. He missed 26 games due to the stroke in 2013-14 and the final seven regular-season games and all of the playoffs in 2014-15 after suffering a concussion.
On June 1 Letang was cleared for contact and at the end of that month he met with team doctors, who said all his tests “were positive.” Letang is back on his normal training schedule and routine, and expects to be at full capacity for training camp and the game action.
“Really good, actually,” Letang said on how he feels. “I was on the same program that I always do in the summer. No setbacks, nothing. I felt pretty good.”
Letang, who was an NHL finalist for the Masterton Award this summer for his ability to overcome a stroke and return to his All-Star caliber play, did acknowledge that he will have to tweak the way he plays the game in order to save his body for a grueling 82 games.
“Managing my ice a little bit more is going to be important,” he said. “I cannot be all out like I do all the time. But I don’t want to change my game. I want to be the same guy that is aggressive, that will finish checks and be a guy that’s tough to play against.”
Letang doesn’t want to play less minutes than previous seasons – where he’s averaged around 25 minutes per game. It isn’t about wearing down physically. Rather, he wants to play the same amount of ice time, but being smarter in terms of conserving himself. He cited the play of Ryan Suter, Minnesota’s standout defenseman who logs nearly 30 minutes per game, as an example of managing his minutes.
“(Suter) is always under control,” Letang said. “You never see him either battling or down the ice. So managing a little bit more, picking my spots a little bit more. As far as ice time, I don’t think that’s an issue.”
Letang doesn’t want to change his game. He’s one of the strongest, fastest and most gifted players in the league. He still wants to utilize his talents, but in a more efficient way. It’s something he worked on heading into last season with assistant coach Gary Agnew.
“We all know my habits are built in. I’m a competitor,” Letang said. “I like to be aggressive and physical. I try to bring every aspect of the game. It’s something I need to work on, managing those times to be aggressive, physical, and those types of things.”