Letang's scoring touch best among young Penguins defensemen

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:20 p.m.

When the Penguins signed Kris Letang to an eight-year, $58 million contract extension in July, general manager Ray Shero seemingly locked up a franchise pillar on the blue line to pair with centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Letang's new deal won't kick in until the 2014-15 season, but the 26-year-old could be dealt due to the team's wealth of young defensemen, Letang's susceptibility to injury (he has missed 35 percent of regular-season games since 2011-12) and the big cap hit from his mega-contract ($7.25 million next season, up from $3.5 million this season).

Letang could bring back a serious scoring threat, taking pressure off Crosby, Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal. However, it's worth remembering the Norris Trophy finalist possesses offensive talent the likes of which the Penguins rarely, if ever, have seen from a young defenseman.

Through age 26, Letang leads all blue-liners in franchise history in Offensive Point Shares (OPS), which measures how many standings points a player's offensive production contributes to his team's total.

Youth served

Player OPS through age 26

Kris Letang 19.8

Randy Carlyle 19.0

Ryan Whitney 12.0

Ron Stackhouse 10.7

Moe Mantha 9.4

Source: Hockey-Reference.com

Interestingly, the Penguins have a rich history of trading young, offensive-minded defensemen and getting valuable pieces in return. Randy Carlyle was shipped to Winnipeg during his age-27 season for a first-round draft pick (used on Doug Bodger, who later was dealt to Buffalo for Stanley Cup-winning goalie Tom Barrasso) and Moe Mantha. Mantha was traded at 27 to Edmonton in a seven-player deal that netted Hall of Famer Paul Coffey. Then 25-year-old Ryan Whitney was dealt to Anaheim for Kunitz and Eric Tangradi.

If Letang stays, he'll keep climbing the Penguins' all-time OPS leaders among defensemen. Already in the top five, he'll soon pass Carlyle and may eventually challenge Coffey for top honors.

Player OPS in Pittsburgh

Paul Coffey 33.9

Sergei Gonchar 23.0

Larry Murphy 23.0

Randy Carlyle 20.0

Kris Letang 19.8

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