Tag Archives: Kris Letang

Penguins Physicality Not What You Might Think

On October 6, after a 10-1 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan asked for more physicality from his players.

Physical play has been a point of contention for years in Pittsburgh as superstar veterans Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and especially Sidney Crosby have been the victims of some “liberties” dished out by opposing players who have little retribution to fear based on the Penguins roster.

Fans haven’t quite been satisfied with the contributions of protection players such as Tom Sestito, and the addition of Ryan Reaves for the 2017-18 season opens the conversation even wider. Although Reaves has been pretty good so far, the Penguins won two Stanley Cups in a row and counting with those types of players contributing minute bit parts on the journey.

So if that isn’t the kind of toughness the Penguins rely on, what kind of physicality is Sullivan asking for? Substituting the word “physicality” with the words “compete” and “body position” might give you the answer.

The game against Chicago really wasn’t that bad as far as the Penguins creating their own chances and having the puck. The Blackhawks just simply weren’t slowed down at all by any sort of physical contact. I don’t mean hitting. I mean body positioning.

Someone like Carl Hagelin seems lost so far. It’s because he’s not engaging. To create separation from an opponent, you first have to come together. That’s why in every foot race as a kid someone would always jokingly push off the person you’re racing against. It’s why basketball and soccer players post up, leaning into the opponent with their back. It helps you control where your opponent can move, and what your opponent can reach with the hands or stick.

It’s why football quarterbacks want their top receivers in one on one coverage so they can battle for position and control the defender. The quarterback always gets the credit for putting the ball “where only the receiver could get it”, but that magic spot the defender can’t reach is only created by the positioning and desire of the receiver to keep that defender away from that spot.

We always think of using your body and being physical on the defensive side of the puck. This tweet I put out a while ago is a great example of an NHL defenseman doing everything right with physicality, not in terms of hitting but just by pure compete and positioning:

But this kind of physicality is just as important on offense. Watch Partic Hornqvist‘s recent goal against the Florida Panthers:

One notable thing about Conor Sheary is how he reminds me of Crosby. It’s not his hands or his moves. It’s his strength. It’s how he keeps low and fends off anyone trying to get in his way. He craves the feeling of someone on him so he can win the battle and explode away. Crosby is famous for fending off players riding his back, using his body positioning and lower body strength to make even the best checkers look like they need to hit the gym. But if he didn’t engage in the physicality with them, he wouldn’t be able to use his strength to his advantage. What’s the point of being the strongest lower body player in the game if you never engage?

To demonstrate the point, here’s a video shot by John Moore of some Nova Scotian NHLers practicing in Halifax during the off season. James Sheppard, Zack Sill, Brad Marchand, and Crosby are all working on puck protection. Notice how little body checking there is. It’s just brute strength and intelligent body placement. The most important detail in this video is this: notice how not one single battle is won until one of these players pushes off the other and explodes away. Spoiler alert: it’s not the guy without the puck that does this in most cases. It’s the guy WITH the puck.

This is the physicality Mike Sullivan needs on both offense and “defense”.

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Letang Rightfully Given “A”

This was a long time coming, and very well deserved. There was a vacant spot for one of the alternate captain roles on the Penguins squad, that has now been filled by Kris Letang, and I couldn’t be any happier for the guy. Big congratulations to him.

The longest tenured Penguins’ defenseman has faced some trial and tribulations along with much success through his entertaining career. There really wasn’t any better choice once an opportunity was raised after Chris Kunitz bolted to Tampa Bay. (Pun intended)

After coming up as a spring chicken under the tutelage of great Penguin defensemen such as Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar, Letang has developed into a top 5-10 defenseman in the league. He’s become a blanket of comfort to Pens fans everywhere when he is on the ice.

Other than defense, Letang has also fiercely manned offensive production from the blue-line. He’s grown as a leader through his example of play.

This honor should have came years ago. But besides the Kunitz change, the Penguins haven’t had a new captaincy since 2012. Sometimes you might be deserving but there’s just not enough room.

Some could say that about Letang’s snubs for the Norris Trophy.….

Among a great career both offensively and defensively along with 3 Stanley Cups and counting, Letang has also had troubling circumstances that he has persevered to overcome.

During the 08′ Cup Finals, one of Letang’s best friend tragically passed away in a motorcycle accident. Letting also suffered a stroke amidst the 2014 season and miraculously came back by the end of it. A rare health ailment for someone at his age.

If that wasn’t enough, Letang endured neck surgery mid way through this 2017 season to fix a herniated disc, costing him the rest of the season and sitting out during the teams Cup run on the way to back to back trophies.

Determined to get back on the ice, there are not many players mentally tougher than Kris Letang. In a proud moment, he returned to said ice just the other day, participating in a preseason game wearing that “A”.

Our guy is back.

When you look around the locker room it really became an easy choice. Many of the Pens roster are only 2-3 years in, so who does that leave? Phil Kessel or Patric Hornqvist? What about Ian Cole?

Both might be great choices but they have only been a Penguin going on 3 (Kessel) and 4 years (Hornqvist). Based on Letang’s longevity on the team plus his elite level of play, he’s the right guy.

For me stats aren’t as important, but since I brought it up anyway Letang is currently 2nd on the team list in goals, assists, and points by a defensemen. He will surely pass that if he continues to get healthy and play a few more seasons.

Letang will join teammate Evgeni Malkin as a fellow alternate captain who is along side Sidney Crosby as the team captain for this group’s stable.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always felt the alternate captain roles should have 1 forward and 1 defenseman.

All of Pittsburgh should be proud that Letang earned this chance for this letter to be worn on his sweater. No one on the team, or maybe in the league, is more deserving of a very high honor.

COLUMN: This Season Feels Different

Somehow, we are less than a month away from the puck being dropped on the 2017-18′ season. I guess that’s what happens when you go to the Stanley Cup Finals and don’t spend two extra months watching other teams play like another Pennsylvania team does.

Every season has its headlines and it’s new waves of prospects being ready to embark upon their NHL rosters. Players depart from teams and head to greener pastures when their contracts expire. Some chase the shiny silver heavy trophy-like specimen that many call “The Stanley Cup”.

For the Penguins, the beginning of the 2015-16′ season felt like a new era. The Penguins had acquired Phil Kessel on July 1st in a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Penguins fans spent the better parts of July, August, and September painfully awaiting the chance to see number 81 fly around the ice in a Penguins sweater. They spent the early part of the season spiraling and it seemed by mid-December they were out of it. Mike Sullivan was hired and the rest is history. The WBS guys began filling roster spots. Fun, exciting, rejuvenating times for hockey in Pittsburgh.

Last season began with no doubts. The Penguins and fans felt invincible. With practically the same roster and one of the best coaches in the league currently, it seemed the Penguins were easily going to breeze through the league and repeat. Then Kris Letang had neck surgery and missed the rest of the season. There was goalie controversy. The Washington Capitals were the league’s best team. It seemed nothing could go the Penguins way…until it did. The Penguins repeated.

So bring on 2017-18′.

They’ve got Matt Murray as their new permanent starter. They’ve got Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese just a call away. They made some adjustments to a roster that couldn’t possibly maintain this playing style for a third straight potential run at a Stanley Cup. Letang is back and cleared to participate in hockey again. They don’t even have a third-line center. And, yet, this still feels like the first time…even though it doesn’t.

I sit here and think about how it’s even fathomable to think that Matt Hunwick, Ryan Reaves, and Antti Niemi are supposed to replace guys like Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daley, Chris Kunitz and Nick Bonino. Then I counter that with the fact that Letang, one of the biggest reasons the Penguins won the Cup the first time around, is back and refreshed and ready to anchor the Penguins’ defense even after they won the Cup without him last season.

I sit and think how Fleury, a Pittsburgh idol for years, has transitioned into life on the West Coast with the Vegas Golden Knights. Then I counter that with how Murray might be just that much better, even without the shining-bright personality. He’ll let his play speak and not his smile.

I ponder how the Penguins are going to get by without a legitimate third line center to start the season. Then I remember that Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby played some of the best hockey we’ve ever seen from them simultaneously over the past two seasons and instantly forget the third line center “problem”.

Let’s face it. There aren’t many holes with this team. Yes, the third line center issue might worry you. But, when has Jim Rutherford ever given you reason to doubt that he will fill that void?

The Penguins can get by early in the year with a rotation of their bottom two centers, whomever they choose to fill such roles. The market is too high right now to buy. The Penguins will hold a playoff spot all year. They can buy when teams are really trying to unload players mid-season and at the trade deadline.

There is a reason this season feels a bit different. In recent years, you couldn’t say that you guaranteed the Penguins would make the Finals, let alone win them. I still don’t think that’s the case. The roster does look a bit weaker.

Just remember, Sullivan has yet to lose a playoff series. He’s a smart coach who knows how to use his players. If you don’t produce, you don’t play. He’ll find a role player that does exactly what he wants.

The biggest reason this season feels different, though, is because of the business-like approach they’re going to have.

There are some players on this current team who have things to prove. That’s usually when the best comes out of them.

Carl Hagelin had one of the more disappointing seasons on the team last year. He scored the Cup clinching goal, but it was only one of two points he scored in the entire playoffs.

Conor Sheary, a 20-goal scorer last season, signed a three-year extension with the team at $3 million per year. Many people scrutinized this move as he’s been benched at some point in the playoffs the past two seasons.

Brian Dumoulin, also signed to a long-term extension this offseason, wants to prove that he isn’t just good when Letang is his defense partner and that he’s worth the money he’ll be getting paid.

Justin Schultz, the final long-term contract signee, wants to show he wasn’t a one-hit wonder and has truthfully resurrected what Edmonton almost ruined.

Derrick Pouliot, a former first round draft choice, has yet to put together a solid resume in the NHL. He plays fantastic in the AHL and looks like a dumpster fire when given NHL minutes.

Reaves, a perceived tough-guy, wants to disprove that notion and show that he was worth the first round pick and Oskar Sundqvist that was given to St. Louis in exchange for his services.

Murray wants to prove that he can handle a season’s worth of workload. Many have said that his success is only because he’s kept fresh for when it really counts.

Crosby and Malkin want to assure their legacy and prove they’re the best duo in the modern-day NHL.

The list could go on and on.

When there is competition or a chance to prove yourself to people, it usually brings out the best in that individual or team. I don’t think there is a scary team in the Eastern Conference than Pittsburgh. The Western Conference always has a few teams.

You may say there isn’t much left to prove when you’ve won two straight championships and the target is on your back. Ask these Penguins if there isn’t something to prove.

Incase you are unaware, the Flyers will no longer have a team on the Stanley Cup if they don’t win this upcoming season as a new ring will need to be placed on the Cup following the year. There would be no better way to knock the Flyers off of the Stanley Cup than to put the Pittsburgh Penguins’ name on there for a third straight time.

Damn, it’s been a long time since 1975.

Top 10 NHL Defensemen

Jeremy Roenick sparked some controversy on Twitter last Thursday night, tweeting out his list of top 10 defensemen in the league right now. Let’s just say there were some questionable choices on that list and some defensemen that were left off that shouldn’t have been. Now to be fair, everyone is entitled to their opinion, even when it’s wrong.

The NHL Network followed up Roenick with their own Top 20 list. It didn’t nearly create the controversy as Roenick’s did, but some would still debate some spots.

In all honesty, all of these lists are subjective. So, without further adieu, and after a lot of thinking and shuffling, here’s my top 10 defensemen in the NHL right now.

1. Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators

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It’s not even a question who’s number one. Erik Karlsson is the most gifted defenseman in the NHL right now, and his play year after year is the epitome of consistency. I’ll argue that no one is better on the break out than Karlsson. Legendary D-man Paul Coffey even praises Karlsson for his ability in transition. He’s an elite threat offensively, and his actual defensive play has matured over the years. Everything he does on the ice is flawless and he rarely makes significant mistakes. There’s a reason he’s a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

2. Brent Burns – San Jose Sharks

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If anybody can rival Karlsson as the top defensemen right now, it’s Brent Burns. He led all defensemen in points this past season, so there’s no need to go down that road. He’s so dangerous driving the offense from the back end for his team, which in today’s NHL, where goals are at a premium, that is very valuable. Its also helps that he hasn’t missed a game during the past three seasons. While Burns can match Karlsson blow for blow in terms of point production, Burns’ game isn’t quite as complete as Karlsson’s.

3. Duncan Keith – Chicago Blackhawks

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This may be an unpopular pick. While some consider him to be overrated, I’m a fan of consistency. Duncan Keith exemplifies consistency. While some may discredit the plus/minus stat, Keith has been a plus player in nine of his twelve NHL seasons, his worst being a -11 in his rookie season. The other two were even and a -1. This past season, he was a +22, while still being fifth among all defensemen in points.

4. Victor Hedman – Tampa Bay Lightning

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I would argue that Victor Hedman is the most well-rounded defensemen in all of hockey. His game in all 200 feet of the ice is solid. He can put up points with any other defenseman (2nd in the league among defensemen, with the most assists), while his play in the defensive zone is rock solid. Along with Duncan Keith, he’s consistent, but isn’t a mega-talent like Karlsson or Burns.

5. Kris Letang – Pittsburgh Penguins

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In all honesty, the only reason it could be controversial to put Kris Letang in the top five is because of his absence last season. He missed 41 regular season games, along with the entire Penguins’ Cup run. I’d argue with anyone that these particular health issues are outside of his control, therefore shouldn’t be held against him. He also can put up points with any defenseman (4th among qualifying defensemen in points-per-game), along with playing a solid, physical defensive game. He was very reckless with the puck earlier in his career, but has turned into one of the elite break out defensemen in the league.

6. Roman Josi – Nashville Predators

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Roman Josi is one of the more under-appreciated defensemen in the NHL. He’s been overlooked because of being next to guys like Shea Weber, and now P.K. Subban. I’d argue there isn’t a better skating defenseman in the league, and he’s another very well-rounded player. He doesn’t quite have the production of a Karlsson or Hedman, but he’s still a major threat in the offensive zone. His skating ability and great passing make him a great asset when Nashville needs to get the puck out of the zone.

7. Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings

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I have a feeling I could get a lot of heat for leaving Drew Doughty outside of the top five, much less, all the way down to seventh. I love his game. I’d put him right up there behind Hedman in being well-rounded and having a great two-way game, but I just don’t see the hype behind him being so elite. I love that he’s on the ice more than any other defenseman in hockey, but I don’t think he’s the best at anything. Listen, he’s still an elite defenseman. Any team would be lucky to have him and you could argue him into the top five, but not for me. I just don’t see reason to put him ahead of the other six.

8. Shea Weber – Montréal Canadiens

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Weber is a great two-way defensemen and he’s a great asset for any team. He’s getting up there in age and he’s not the point producer he needs to be to be top five, but his defensive game is outstanding. His shot from the point rivals anyone else’s in hockey. He had a solid first year in Montréal and showed he continues to be among the elite blue-liners in hockey.

9. Ryan Suter – Minnesota Wild

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There isn’t a question that Ryan Suter is the best defensive defenseman on this list. He led all defensemen with a +34 last season. His point production is a bit lacking, which keeps him a little lower on this list. This is, however, a list of defensemen, so leaving off one of the most sound defensive players in hockey seems wrong.

10. P.K. Subban – Nashville Predators

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There’s a lot of hype around Subban. He plays with a lot of confidence and energy. He’s a great leader and really took Nashville on his back to the Cup Final last season. I still believe he’s a top ten defenseman, but he rounds out the list. He’s a bit over-aggressive defensively and his 40 points last year doesn’t help make a case for him to be the elite among the elite. He’s still a major threat at both ends of the ice, so he still deserves to be top ten.

Penguins Fantasy Hockey Predictions

Around this time of year, most people are focused on their upcoming fantasy football drafts and not too much so with hockey. I am here to help.

Instead of previewing the entire league, I will be noting some Penguins who I believe should be on your roster regardless of your league size. I will also be noting a few players who could deserve a look in bigger and more deep leagues.

The Inevitable…

Sidney Crosby, C

Whether he is the top pick or the second pick, behind Connor McDavid of course, Crosby will be owned in every single (competitive) fantasy league because he just is the best.

After winning the Rocket Richard last year as the league’s leading scorer, it’s reasonable to believe he can do it again as he is playing at the level we have always known Crosby to be. Maybe even better. It’s reasonable to think that he doesn’t put up 44 goals again but with Crosby, anything is possible.

Couple about 40 goals with 60+ assists and Crosby will help pitch in to win your fantasy league.

Projected Stats: 38 G, 65 A, 103 PTS, +21 +/-, 25 PIMs

Evgeni Malkin, C

In a league where Malkin is very underrated, it’s likely he will be on your draft board, too. A top 5 talent in the league, Malkin could be a second round pick depending on the size of your league.

Malkin was a huge reason the Penguins won the Cup last season and nothing drives him more than winning championships. Malkin, along with a few other teammates, have a chance to three-peat. If that isn’t enough to keep him motivated, I don’t know what is.

The only problem will be his durability.

He has missed some games over the past few seasons for some nagging injuries. This shouldn’t hinder your choice to take him. If he is available, even as high as pick number three, and you have an inclination to take him, don’t hesitate. Malkin is going to have a big year. I’ll say even enough to compete for the scoring title.

Projected Stats: 31 G, 68 A, 99 PTS, +14 +/-, 49 PIMs

Kris Letang, D

Yet another underrated player in the league, Letang will be returning from a major neck operation. And, yet again, if you need a cornerstone defenseman in the first four or five rounds, Letang should be available.

Letang’s neck injury could scare some away. I’d even say he may struggle to really find his game in the first month after being off the ice for over half a year. But, fantasy league’s aren’t won in month number one. They are won with long term investments.

In Mike Johnston‘s final tenure as the head coach of the team, Letang wasn’t being used properly and ultimately was almost useless in any fantasy format. Even with the worst of start of his career, it didn’t stop Letang from almost winning the scoring race amongst defensemen. He also scored the game winning game in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals that season.

Letang’s injury last season may slow him early. But he’ll be very much worth the long term investment come fantasy playoff time.

Projected Stats: 10 G, 55 A, 60 PTS, +20 +/-, 68 PIMs

Matt Murray, G

This is the one that may surprise some fans but this is the NEW face of the “Core Four”.

With Marc-Andre Fleury gone to Vegas, the Penguins have their undoubted goalie of the future and the now.

Murray has won two Stanley Cups in his first two seasons. He will hunt a third. The only problem with Murray? His durability.

Murray has had a few freak and unlucky injuries over the past couple seasons. If a fantasy player values a franchise goaltender in the first few rounds then don’t overthink it and select Murray. He will win close to 40 games if he doesn’t miss time due to injury. He is the defined starter now and if those first two seasons are any indication of what’s to come, you’ll want Murray on your team.

Just make sure to draft a solid back option incase of another freak injury.

Projected Stats: 38 W, 2.41 GAA, .927 SV%, 6 SO

Mid-Round Picks…

Patric Hornqvist, RW

Hornqvist is one of those guys that won’t be anywhere near a point per game player. He can reasonably put up 40-50 points.

Where Hornqvist gets his true value is in the categories leagues.

Hornqvist will likely be towards the top of your team in the hitting category. He takes a fair amount of shots and he likely will begin the season on Malkin’s wing.

Even if you aren’t in a categories league, Hornqvist is worth the look if you’re looking for mid-to-late round depth.

Projected Stats: 17 G, 31 A, 48 PTS, +7 +/-, 60 PIMs

Jake Guentzel, RW

Here is your golden ticket.

A lot of people watched Guentzel light up the NHL world in the playoffs. How many people will take this into consideration during the draft?

Guentzel is 98th according to ESPN’s rankings. In a 10 man league, this would make him a ninth or tenth rounder. That is a serious steal if he goes and does what he did last season. He’ll at least begin the season with Crosby.

Don’t overdraft him, though. He is almost guaranteed to be there into the seventh round of a ten man league. If you get paranoid and want him then, go ahead and take him. The later you take him, the smarter you’ll look.

Projected Stats: 31 G, 31 A, 62 PTS, +24 +/-, 16 PIMs

Conor Sheary, LW

The other wing on Crosby’s line, Sheary will also excel if he stays with Crosby. Buyer beware, though.

Every player goes through slumps, but the one Sheary suffered in last year was atrocious in the playoffs. The playoffs don’t matter in fantasy, but it’s proof that if Sheary slumps, it could get very ugly.

He is a solid player with upside but I wouldn’t consider him before round ten. If someone takes him before then, you can find value elsewhere in some other players around the league.

He’ll play with Crosby but it remains to be seen how long. Don’t overdraft him but if he’s there and legitimately the best available, don’t hesitate.

Projected Stats: 18 G, 25 A, 43 PTS, 13 +/-, 31 PIMs

Sleepers…

Phil Kessel, RW

I know it’s odd to see Kessel’s name as a sleeper to some. But, a lot of people are down on him lately.

So depending on how you classify Kessel’s talent, he is a sleeper.

Kessel has played on the third line for the majority of his Penguins career but has found some guys he meshes well with. He could finally end up back with Malkin on a permanent basis.

Kessel will still be anywhere from a third to fifth rounder depending on league size so it’s tough to title him a sleeper. But there is a solid chance he could contend for a Rocket Richard. He is THAT much of a scorer. He just has to do it for a season to get fans to fully buy in again.

Projected Stats: 31 G, 50 A, 81 PTS, -1 +/-, 6 PIMs

Justin Schultz, D

Maybe this lengthy, lucrative contract will finally give Schultz the respect he’s earned throughout the league.

Schultz’s offensive rejuvenation in Pittsburgh’s system is something that went unnoticed last year as he was only added by many fantasy teams in the middle of the year. This year, he is a mid-round pick with early-round pick potential.

Again, he isn’t someone you should draft early especially if some other guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Duncan Keith remain available. But Schultz is a guy you shouldn’t let slip if you think he is one of the top three players you’ve got to choose from.

There is a good chance Schultz could put up 50 points. While I think he will fall short, he is a solid option and you wont be able to find him on waivers so take him if you can.

Projected Stats: 9 G, 34 A, 43 PTS, +19 +/-, 20 PIMs

Overview…

Just because a few guys were omitted from the list doesn’t mean they aren’t worth drafting. A lot of them could be waiver claims if you run into injuries. Or, even I it is late in the draft and you aren’t sure who to take, take them.

Regardless, just win the league. It’s all about bragging rights, correct?

P.S. The staff is going to have their own fantasy hockey league that we will keep you in touch with.

If you would like to be a part of the “LTP Community” league, DM me upon reading this and I will reserve your spot.

Odd Men Out

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a log-jam on defense. As of July 26, just over two months until the 2017-2018 season begins, the Penguins currently have 9 defensemen that could possibly make the roster come October. This begs the question, which defensemen will be left off the team and which will be the odd men out?

The Keepers

To me, there are four defensemen that are absolute locks to be here and playing at the start of the season; Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Ian Cole. Leaving Olli Maatta off this list is somewhat controversial sure but we’ll get to him later. Besides Maatta, this leaves Frank Corrado, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel, and Derrick Pouliot all fighting for the remaining three spots.

The Unlikely

It would seem as though that the struggling Corrado and journeyman Chad Ruhwedel are destined to start in the AHL next season. Despite General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s high praise for Ruhwedel at the beginning of free agency, it seems as though the signing of Matt Hunwick has made him more of a depth defensemen than a top 6 guy. Hunwick is known to struggle, though, and has been driving Toronto fans nuts for years; so if he does start to flounder, or the inevitable injury to a defensemen happens, expect Ruhwedel to be the first guy up. Corrado on the other hand…well, who really knows. It seems as if he’s been forgotten over the past few months as free agency continues. Unless he stuns the coaching staff and GM in the preseason, Corrado will probably be heading to Wilkes-Barre for a majority of the season.

Three Men, Two Spots

This leaves us with Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Hunwick, all fighting for the two spots that remain. As I’ve said about Hunwick, I do expect to see him on opening night, that may be in the press box or on the ice, but I just think that Rutherford would not give a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million to someone just to be banished to the minors. Now, if Olli Maatta is still a Penguin by October, then there is absolutely no doubt that he will be starting. Maatta’s game went from amazing to disastrous after a slew of injuries stunted his development. Maatta’s mistakes stand out due to his lack of speed. However, when he’s not getting burned, he is still an outstanding defensemen. Maatta really has transformed his game to become a more complete NHL defensemen since his rookie season, but his speed is still something that plagues him. I personally do not want the Penguins to trade Olli Maatta. He is a great defensemen with a bright future ahead of him. That being said, when looking at the void at third line center and the excess that the Pens have on D…if Rutherford wanted to make a splash and trade for a big name, (which he does not have to), Maatta would almost have to be going the other way.  Finally there is the never-ending conundrum that is Derrick Pouliot. The Pen’s best defensive prospect has struggled ever since he stunned Pittsburgh by scoring his first goal on his first shot. Reported attitude problems and losing the ability to quickly move the puck seemingly overnight have made Pouliot spend a majority of his career in the AHL, despite his overwhelming potential. However, in an interview with The Trib, Rutherford said, “Pouliot finished the season real strong.  We feel he’s going to come in and play,” However, if the Pens were to keep Maatta, then the top 6 would include Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole, and Hunwick. I don’t see where Pouliot fits in. I think the kid deserves a shot and also think that he is probably better than Matt Hunwick is, but again Hunwick’s contract makes it hard for me to think that he’ll be sitting many games. To be quite frank, I do not know what the Pens will do with Pouliot if this same roster is intact. Maybe he’s traded, maybe he spends time at practice and in the press box, maybe he takes Hunwick’s spot, or maybe he’s forced to spend yet another season in Wilkes-Barre.

Only time can tell what will happen to the Penguins Defense come October. No matter what does happen, a healthy Kris Letang makes the Pens defense one to reckon with next year.

Offseason Player Grades: Kris Letang

Regular Season Statistics

GP: 41, G: 5, A: 29, P: 34, +/-: 2

Playoff Statistics

None, Missed ya Tanger!

Player Grade (B)

If Kris Letang would have played a whole season and maybe racked up some more points, we probably could move him up to an ‘A’. Honestly a lot of people see him as an offensive defenseman, but in the 41 games played he only had 5 goals.

Review

Letang is the number one guy you think of when it comes to the Penguins defense. He is the backbone of those guys, and when he had his surgery nothing changed in the defensive core expect obviously the D-Line pairings. His numbers for the 41 games played aren’t terrible at all. Could they improve? Yes I truly believe they will with time to come and him returning from injury. 

Preview

Next season, I see Letang coming back to the role he has from season to season. He’s the leader of the Pens defense and their top guy. Watch for Letang to find more points next year, hopefully no injuries occur on his part. Keep an eye on the the defenseman point chart because we probably will see Letang up there most of the year. 

Conclusion

Letang is obviously one of the most beloved Penguins, as we saw the love shown to him by most fans at the victory parade. This neck surgery was just a little set back for him this season but next season wait until (hopefully around this time) next year to see that player grade rise to an ‘A’ because of the bright future and season to come from Kris Letang.