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Penguins' Kris Letang cleared to rejoin team for training camp

Jonathan Bombulie
| Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, 12:42 p.m.

If Kris Letang is supposed to be a less-impactful player after the neck surgery he had April 13 than he was before it, somebody better tell the 30-year-old defenseman.

Speaking at the team's annual preseason golf tournament Tuesday, Letang said he was cleared for contact and expects to be a full participant in practice when the Penguins open training camp Friday in Cranberry. He said he's been running and skating since July 5.

While admitting he and the team would monitor his health on a day-to-day basis, Letang expressed nothing but optimism about the workload he will be able to handle with a surgically repaired neck.

Does he plan to take days off during the season to try to stay rested?

Nope.

“I'm healthy,” Letang said. “That's the only thing I know. I don't know why I would rest. The energy is going to be there, that's for sure.”

Does he plan to continue to play nearly 30 minutes per game like he has become accustomed to doing over the past few seasons?

Yep.

“I will,” Letang said. “That's what I want to do. That's part of my game, the way I play. Obviously, that's my goal. I have no expectation. I'm just going to go the way I always did and go from there.”

Does he plan to tone down his fearless, aggressive style of play in the hopes of staying off the injured list?

Nope.

“Everybody's different, the way they play out there,” Letang said. “There's certain things to avoid, that's for sure, but it's not going to change my game.”

Letang conceded his answers to those questions might have been different if they were posed in the minutes and days immediately following his surgery. It was, after all, a serious procedure. For a while, he had doubts about his future on the ice.

“It was hard. I'm not going to lie,” Letang said. “It was a tough first two weeks. There's a lot that goes through your mind. After that, I started getting more confidence. When the guys were playing, I was actually able to work out and do little things. I got my confidence back that I was going to be healthy.”

Needless to say, a healthy and confident Letang would make a significant impact on the way the Penguins play. In addition to the difficult minutes he handles, no single player can spark the team's transition game like Letang.

“He's such a key part of our team,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “Even when he was out, he was around and helping us out. Now to have him back on the ice is going to be huge for us.”

The lineup Letang returns to isn't the same as the one he left. Ron Hainsey and Trevor Daley are gone from the defense. Departed centers Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen did some of their best work on the defensive end. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is gone, too.

Still, Letang was just as optimistic Tuesday about his team's chances at a three-peat as he was about the health of his neck.

“The main guys, the key guys, are still the same,” Letang said. “We have the same core group. The younger guys have more experience. It's just going to help our team.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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