COLUMBUS, OHIO – Head coach Dan Bylsma has said on more than one occasion that he hopes several of the Penguins’ top young prospects will step up and force the team to take them on the opening-night roster.
Nobody has taken those words to heart more so than center Mark Letestu, whose strong training camping performance continued on Saturday night during the Penguins’ 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Letestu, 25, picked up a pair of helpers to give him a team-leading four assists in two games after notching three goals in two games during the team’s training camp scrimmages last weekend.
Letestu picked up his first helper at 16:46 of the second period when his slap shot from the top of the high slot went off a Blue Jackets forward up high, and then off Chris Kunitz
in front of the cage and jumped over the shoulder of Columbus netminder and former Penguin Mathieu Garon to tie the score at 3-3.
Midway through the third period Letestu showcased his high skill level by dangling around a Blue Jackets defenseman on a rush into the offensive zone, before sending a perfect feed right onto the blade of Mike Comrie at the edge of the crease for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
“Dan is trusting me in a lot of situations, which is nice,” said Letestu, who centered a line with Kunitz on his left side and Comrie his right. “I got lucky with a couple of bounces tonight, but when you are in the right spots, luck seems to find you. I’ll take them any way I can get them. Hopefully it rolls on throughout the preseason here.”RELATED ARTICLE: Strong Start Continues As Penguins Defeat Blue Jackets 5-4
While the points are nice, what is impressing Bylsma the most about Letestu are the other things he is doing – particularly playing strong defense away from the puck, winning puck battles along the boards and dominating on faceoffs – where he went a team-best 6-1 (86 percent).
It’s those little things that are going to bigger things for Letestu if he keeps playing the same way.
“I think Mark played some good hockey for us last year – creating some offense even though he didn’t get the results,” Bylsma said. “I think right now, in the first two games, you are seeing him get the results. He has been reliable in the faceoff circle. He’s going out with good players and going out there on the power play. When you get results like that, that is something more than he added last year. He is going to keep getting that opportunity if he keeps putting up points.”
As one of the few right-handed options down the middle, Letestu knows continuing to excel on the faceoff dots is only going to help him continue to stand out, especially on those nights when he isn’t contributing offensively.
“I think faceoffs is a big one for me,” Letestu said. “I am another option because I am right-handed. My first preseason game I was pretty bad on faceoffs, so tonight I wanted to make a statement here. Hopefully I can keep that rolling.”