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Letang doing best to stay with Penguins

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Monday, Oct. 16, 2006
 

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang had a special request for assistant equipment manager Paul DeFazio on Friday.

He needed help finding a coat, something appropriate for temperatures in the 30s and 40s such as the region has experienced the past few days. Turns out that when Letang, 19, packed for rookie camp in early September, he wasn't expecting to still be in Pittsburgh in mid-October when it got to be warm coat weather.

"No," he said, smiling.

Yet, Letang is still with the Penguins -- at least for now. On Saturday night, he scored his second goal in two games, the only Penguins player to find the net in a 5-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Letang is in the same situation as Jordan Staal in that both players can be sent back to their junior teams up to and including their ninth game of the season. Once they play their 10th game, the Penguins must keep them in the NHL for the rest of the year.

The Penguins (2-2-0) play their 10th game Nov. 1 against the Los Angeles Kings, and Letang wants very much to be at the Staples Center that night.


Getting defensive
A look at how Penguins defensemen have fared through four games:
Name
Goals
Assists
Points
Penalty Minutes
Plus/Minus
Kris Letang
2
0
2
0
-2
Ryan Whitney
2
0
2
6
+1
Sergei Gonchar
0
2
2
6
-3
Rob Scuderi
0
1
1
0
-1
Josef Melichar
1
0
1
0
+3
Mark Eaton
0
0
0
2
-2


"For sure, I think right now I have to play my best," Letang said. "If I want to stay here, I have to play every game like it's my last one. The first (game), I was a little nervous, but right now I'm getting more confidence. It's better."

Coach Michel Therrien has taken a balanced approach with his defensive pairings in the Penguins' first four games, matching an offensive defenseman with a stay-at-home defenseman. Letang has been paired with Rob Scuderi.

The Montreal native is averaging just over 14 minutes of ice time with two goals, both on the power play, and a minus-2 rating in four games.

"He's been fine," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Saturday. "He's a young defenseman, and he makes some good plays and some other ones that are not so good. But he looks good. It's a hard league and a hard position to learn. But there are some positives. He gives us an element back there in terms of being able to shoot the puck and get pucks to the net, which some of our other guys can't do. It's a big jump, obviously, but he's handled it pretty well."

Letang already has been a leader on his junior team, finishing fourth on his team in scoring last year with 25 goals and 43 assists for 68 points in 60 games. He also played in the playoffs and helped Canada win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships.

One could make the argument that at this stage of his career, Letang would learn more and develop faster in the NHL than if he went back for another year of juniors.

But Shero said that what Staal and Letang can do with the Penguins will matter most when he makes the final decision to keep them or send them back.

"It's what they can contribute here, how much they can learn here and how much they're going to develop here," Shero said. "What happens back in junior we can't control. We can control what they do here in terms of practicing and playing. We'll wait and see. Each decision will be made separately and on its own merits."

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