Letang returns after brief Russia trip

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Say this for Penguins defenseman Kris Letang: He might not have supreme travel sense, but he isn't lazy.

At the end of a whirlwind week that saw Letang spend four nights in Russia, the all-star defenseman arrived in Pittsburgh at 4 a.m. Friday and was attended a workout at Southpointe seven hours later.

“It's good to be back,” he said.

He went to St. Petersburg, Russia, after signing a deal with the KHL team there. Of course, he never played a game because an NHL labor agreement was struck 48 hours later.

“The (KHL) deal was done a long time ago. It was just a question of timing,” Letang said. “Even if the lockout was closer to an end, they asked me to come anyways and to check out the facility and the way they were managing the team. It was a good experience.”

Although some of his teammates were amused that Letang was forced to return home after only a few days in Russia, the 25-year-old took it in stride.

“They were really nice to me,” he said. “It was a first-class organization.”

Letang was busier than most players during the lockout.

He trained briefly at Southpointe before returning to Montreal to play in charity games. After becoming a father for the first time, Letang remained in Quebec and trained multiple times during the week with members of the Canadiens.

Letang then went to Russia days before the news broke that there would be an NHL season.

“We all missed (the NHL),” Letang said. “I'm happy to be back in Pittsburgh and to have a chance to play another season here.”

Letang, one of the NHL's best-conditioned players, says he will be prepared for the season opener Jan. 19 despite an abbreviated training camp.

“I kept training the whole time,” he said. “Same routine every day.”

Letang said he believes the Penguins are in good position to contend for a championship because of the lack of roster turnover.

“It's not like the Canadiens,” he said. “They changed their coach and their GM. Signed a lot of different guys. I hope we're going to keep the same system so we're all on the same page. It's been a long time. A few hard practices will help us prepare.”

Letang has been so busy that he missed the news that the Penguins open the season in Philadelphia.

He didn't mind being informed.

“Didn't have time to check anything,” he said. “But I like it.”

Notes: Two Wilkes-Barre players invited to training camp include left wing Eric Tangradi and defenseman Simon Despres. They arrived in Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon. Other Baby Pens, including Beau Bennett and Robert Bortuzzo, may head to Pittsburgh on Saturday. Wilkes-Barre played Friday night and could afford to lose only a couple of players prior to its game. ... Camp practices could begin Sunday even though the first day of camp is usually reserved for players' medical examinations. The Players' Association and NHL are working on transition rules for the new labor contract, which the union expects to be ratified after its vote Saturday morning. Players were allowed to take voluntary physicals Friday, and that will continue Saturday. If voluntary physicals are wrapped in time, players could practice with club coaches Sunday, giving teams at least six days of camp sessions instead of a minimum of five.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @joshyohe_trib.

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