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Back at practice, Penguins' Letang hopeful to make return

| Monday, March 17, 2014, 8:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang skates during practice Monday, March 17, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

Kris Letang didn't make any promises.

He didn't set a date for his return, and he acknowledged that further medical tests must be passed before he can play in an NHL game.

However, he shed light on his ultimate plan.

Letang, who suffered a stroke Jan. 29, wants to help the Penguins play for the Stanley Cup this spring.

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Letang said. “The first thing I (asked) the doctor was if I was going to be able to play again. If I'm on the ice today, it's because I want to return.”

The 26-year-old defenseman, who was on the ice Monday at Consol Energy Center, acknowledged being fatigued following practice but otherwise “felt good.”

“Just seeing that speed on the ice,” said coach Dan Bylsma, shaking his head, “it was nice to see.”

Letang was cleared over the weekend for “full practices,” which means he is permitted to absorb contact. After visiting a physician at the six-week mark of his recovery from the stroke, Letang was cleared of taking blood thinners, a major step in his recovery.

Although Monday's practice wasn't particularly physical, Letang was encouraged after the workout. However, he must clear more tests before he is able to participate in a game.

He isn't sure when his return will take place.

“We didn't really talk about it yet,” Letang said. “The main thing is, they said I will be all right and I will be able to play again. I don't know when. (But) the answer was yes.”

Letang said doctors still haven't pinpointed the cause of the stroke but that a 26-year-old of his physical condition suffering a stroke was in the “0.01” percentile. The hole in his heart that doctors located in January hasn't been ruled out as a cause, but it hasn't been identified as one, either. Letang said the stroke “is something that hopefully will never happen again.”

“I've been talking to him a lot during this,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “And I know he's been feeling better. Just having him around, it's a big lift for everyone.”

His return could represent a big lift on the ice, too.

Bylsma said following Sunday's 4-3 loss to Philadelphia that the Penguins need to get the puck to their forwards is crisper fashion. Few defensemen in hockey possess Letang's puck-moving skills.

With Letang and defenseman Paul Martin out of the lineup the past nine games, the Penguins have faced 72 more shots than they registered on goal. Martin, who skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before Monday's practice, is out with a broken hand but should return before the postseason.

No one knows when Letang will return, though the past few days have offered the possibility that it could be this season.

“We were told that he was going to need at least five or six weeks and then he'd be evaluated by the doctors,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “Obviously, his health is the primary focus. But it was very nice seeing him out there.”

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

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