Rookie Mark Letestu scored some highlight reel goals early in the season for the Penguins, including his first NHL shootout goal on Nov. 6 with a beauty of a move that he’d perfected in the American Hockey League, to prove he is capable of impressive wizardry with the puck.
As the season progressed, however, Letestu took a different sort of role with the team. Paired with fellow speedsters Tyler Kennedy
and Chris Conner, Letestu concentrated on being tenacious away from the puck and creating opportunities for other Penguins’ line to capitalize on the tired legs of the opposition.
But now with fellow center Sidney Crosby
sidelined for an indeterminable amount of time with a mild concussion, Letestu is getting another opportunity to prove what he can do offensively – especially when he’s given a chance to play with the Penguins’ top guns on the man-advantage.
“Mark Letestu is getting an opportunity to play on the power play in Sid’s absence,” head coach Dan Bylsma said prior to Wednesday’s game. “It’s really a chance for him, saying it or not saying it, he’s getting a chance with the first unit with good players. It’s an opportunity. He’s done good things for us, but he can show us what he can do and he knows he’s in that situation.”
He’s a gifted player, he’s got skill, but he has to play with an edge to win those puck battles and make plays that he can make, and he certainly did that (Wednesday). - Head coach Dan Bylsma, on Mark Letestu
Letestu agreed, saying “I think any time somebody goes down, somebody has to step up. (Bylsma) put me on the first power play unit there for a little bit, so it’s definitely an opportunity for me to prove my worth and that if adversity ever strikes again, I’m a guy that can be called upon to fill in some roles.”
Letestu did see some time on the Penguins’ first power play unit against Montreal, playing a total of 3:40 with the man-advantage. Bylsma liked what he saw from the first-year center.
“In the faceoff circle, on the power play, he allowed us to gain possession right off the hop on some of those power plays,” Bylsma said. “He was a lot more authoritative in the way he played. He’s a gifted player, he’s got skill, but he has to play with an edge to win those puck battles and make plays that he can make, and he certainly did that last night.”
Away from the power play, Letestu is constantly working on every aspect of his game in order to keep that authoritative edge and find the perfect blend of offensive production and toughness.
Not only is he focusing on his conditioning, but Letestu also understands that winning key faceoffs is something that can keep a player in the lineup.
“Faceoffs is something you’ve always got to work on,” he said. “When things aren’t going right, that’s something that can keep you in the lineup from night to night, just the ability to win a big draw.”
He has been doing well off the draw this season, with his 53.7 percent faceoff success rate being the top figure among NHL rookies and ranking second on the team behind Crosby.
But what perhaps says the most about Letestu’s expanded overall role is when he dropped the gloves with Canadiens rookie PK Subban in the third period of Wednesday’s game.
“He’s not a guy who gets in confrontations, but he gets in there,” Bylsma said. “I think that said a lot for how he was playing the game (when) he gets in a tussle with Subban.
“I liked his puck battles. I liked that he was a little more authoritative about his game.”