One bright side to the plague of injuries engulfing the Penguins organization is that younger players are getting an opportunity to experience hockey on the highest level.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy
, who had only two NHL games under his belt prior to this season, will see extensive action on Pittsburgh's blue line for the next couple of weeks. Blueliner Deryk Engelland
played his first NHL game Tuesday in Boston.
And Saturday night against the Bruins at Mellon Arena, forward Mark Letestu, who was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
this morning, will make his NHL debut. Although Letestu had been called up earlier this season, he did not break into the lineup. However, the team has confirmed that he will see action for Pittsburgh against Boston.
"The second time around it is the same thing – nerves and excitement," Letestu said. "It is a special time I guess. I am just going to try to soak it up in warmups and hopefully when the puck drops instincts take over."
Letestu, 24, has been one of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s top scoring threats with eight points (3G-5A), tying for fourth on the team despite missing five games this season.
Letestu is a testament to perseverence and dedication, having worked his way up through the East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League to earn a chance to play in the NHL after playing college hockey at Western Michigan.
"Mark Letestu was a guy we signed out of college early on," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "It wasn’t seamless for Mark. He probably hit a few more road blocks then he wanted to. He spent some time down in the East Coast League. The one thing about Mark, whenever there was a challenge or a bump he kept trying to get better, kept adjusting and kept listening to what (former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) coach (Todd) Richards, coach (Todd) Reirden and myself said to him along the way."
Letestu has played the last two seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and has improved his play with each game. He finished third on the team in scoring last season with 61 points on 24 goals and 37 assists in 73 contests. Letestu elevated his game in the AHL playoffs by finishing second on the team with 10 points (2G-8A) in 12 post-season games.
"He continues to improve and add to his game," Bylsma said. "Off the ice, quickness-wise and strength-wise, he got much better over the three years. Last year he really took over as a guy late in the year who was a student of the game and learned every nuance of what we are trying to do as a team. That adds to how he can add offense to the team – on the power play or five-on-five. That was really a big part of him stepping up last year to be almost a point a game guy in the American Hockey League over the last two-thirds of the season. To see him come a long way physically and in his game in terms of what he brings to the team on the ice and on the bench."
Letestu credits his development to the coaching staffs that he's worked with during his professional career.
I think coming up this year I am comfortable with the player I am going to be. I think I am going to go out there and be the same player I am in the American League and bring the same set of skills that got me here. Hopefully I won’t do too much and the instincts will take over and I will just play a good game - Mark Letestu
"I think the coaching staff (in Wilkes-Barre/Scraton) has put in some good time in trying to define a good role for me. I think coming up this year I am comfortable with the player I am going to be. I think I am going to go out there and be the same player I am in the American League and bring the same set of skills that got me here. Hopefully I won’t do too much and the instincts will take over and I will just play a good game."
And for a guy who has battled for years with the hope of breaking into the NHL, Letestu will enjoy every second he spends on the ice.
"I have spent a long time preparing for something like this," Letestu said. "Hopefully I take everything in stride and play well. I am excited just to soak it all in."
"This is a guy who has earned a chance to add some skill to an NHL team," Bylsma said. "He is going to get that chance tonight. Every small part you play as a coach in that process, you feel like a parent graduating a kid to the next level. He has earned it and has worked hard. I’m looking forward to his chance."Jason Seidling contributed to this report