Long, Busy Offseason May Benefit Letang

Penguins defenseman feels ‘a million times better’

Josh Rowntree
September 11, 2018 - 3:39 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

Kris Letang got caught at the red line and had to go into a dead sprint. Legs heavy, he made a lunging effort, lost his stick, spun around on his knees and crashed into the end boards. 

As he turned, he watched Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov end his rollercoaster 2017-2018 season, scoring the game-winning overtime goal to push Washington past Pittsburgh in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. 

Some wondered if that may have been his final shift with Pittsburgh.

But Letang did not go anywhere and, since then, has gone through a longer, more familiar offseason. And that might be a good thing. 

First off, he spent the Summer healthy, something he was not able to claim a year ago after undergoing season-ending neck surgery and the long, difficult recovery that followed.

Letang got off to a slow start last year largely, in part, to a lack of conditioning time in the months he spent recuperating. Now though? He’s in better hockey shape. 

“Like, a million times better,” he said Tuesday following an informal team practice. “It’s not even close. It feels good to have that good session all through the summer and be able to skate out there.

“I had a little bit of time to rest and I was able to maintain a workload all summer. It was good.”

A workout fiend, Letang is often looked to by teammates to lead those offseason activities. This year, Penguins forward Daniel Sprong spent time conditioning with Letang. 

“He was a fun guy to watch in the gym,” Sprong said of Letang. “He pushes the guys, so it was good looking up to him in the gym and seeing what he did. It was a good summer for all of us.”

Letang admits that he lost his legs a bit at the end of the season. It was evident in the Capitals series. 

“It was different,” he said. “I had never had surgery before. It was a little different. It was a first for me. But, now I feel good and that’s most important.” 

Beyond the obvious conditioning aspect of training, Letang feels it aids in the mental side of the game, as well.

“Mentally, you’re more sharp, so you can keep a high pace all game and be able to process every thing the same way,” Letang said. “If you don’t train, yes, you can have a good shift, but when the fatigue starts creeping on you, you start making bad decisions.

“To have the whole summer to train, my body feels good, my cardio is good, conditioning is good.”

Excellent fitness has resulted in Letang getting high ice time throughout his career. But, earlier in the offseason, Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford suggested that it may be beneficial to have his minutes cut down a bit. 

“I mean, I don’t have an opinion on it,” Letang added. “I’m telling you that if I play well, I play well and they put me on the ice. If I don’t, obviously, you don’t want that guy on the ice. That’s just show it’s going to go, I guess.”

Extra workouts were not the only new addition to Letang’s life in the offseason, as his wife gave birth to a baby girl in July. Letang has an older son, Alex, as well. 

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s a different vibe, obviously. But it’s fun to have some action at home.”

But on the ice is where Letang truly hopes to have a different vibe. Last season was too up-and-down. Sure, he racked up 51 points, scoring nine goals. But Letang was a minus-9 and, at times, was seen as a defensive liability.

“We talked about it,” he said. “It’s not like I went home and was satisfied. I don’t really need to add anything about it. I just need to move on and look ahead.”