Penguins defenseman Kris Letang took a significant step in his recovery from a stroke Monday afternoon.
Letang, 26, participated in full team practice at CONSOL Energy Center. It was the first time Letang, who had been skating on his own since the stroke, took part in an organized team practice.
However, there is no timeframe or date set for his return to game action. But Letang didn’t hide the fact that his goal is to play for the Penguins again this season.
“I was on the ice today because I want to return,” Letang said. “I’ll be able to play again. I don’t know when.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma reiterated Letang’s status as being undetermined.
“It’s not like Paul Martin, who has an injury, a surgery and a date where he’s working back to get in the game. There’s no date to be determined for Kris,” Bylsma said. “Right now he’s back in a full practice. That’s a good thing.”
Despite the severity of his situation, Letang has no apprehension about returning to the ice.
“Even the day I had the stroke I asked the doctor when I would be able to play again,” Letang said. “It never crossed my mind that I could have a stroke at 26. It could (happen again) because it happened once. Who knows? I’m not going to worry about that.”
Letang didn’t just practice with his teammates. He was cleared for full participation without limitations – which included contact.
“Guys were being really careful when we’d go into the corner,” Letang said. “I told them they can go as hard as they can. That’s the main reason why I’m out there. I want to get to the same pace I was before.”
From the naked eye, Letang appeared to be at, or at least near, the pace he was at before.
“Now I’m tired, but it felt pretty good,” Letang said following practice. “I’ve been skating on my own and working out at a pretty high pace. It felt pretty good.”
“To turn up and see Kris Letang coming at you with that speed, I was like ‘Wow,’” Bylsma said. “Haven’t seen that in a lot of cases for our team. To see him out there and skating and playing like he can, that’s where my mind was today.”
Letang suffered the stroke on Jan. 29 and was on blood thinners for six weeks. Sunday marked the final day of that six-week period. He met with doctors, including team Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who has overseen his treatment since the initial incident, last week to determine his next step.
“I had tests last week to see if I could go off the blood thinners,” Letang said. “The answer was yes. That’s why I’m practicing today.”
Doctors theorized that a hole in the wall of Letang’s heart was a possible cause for the stroke, though they are not certain.
“We are not sure 100 percent that is the cause,” Letang said. “There are many other reasons you can have a stroke. We aren’t worried about the heart right now. We’re just worried that my system is cleared of the symptoms.”