Pens' Letang aims to prove he's a pro
KITCHENER, Ontario -- A banner paying tribute to former Kitchener Ranger Paul Coffey hangs from the roof inside the Memorial Auditorium.
Coffey, a Hall of Famer, starred in this quaint Canadian town for most of a final, dominant junior season in the then-Ontario Hockey Association before turning professional with the Edmonton Oilers in 1980. That launched a stellar 21-year career that included four-plus seasons in Pittsburgh from 1987-1992.
Coffey was 18 when he scored 71 points in 52 games for the Kitchener Rangers during the 1979-80 season. Prior to joining Kitchener that season, he recorded 31 points in 23 games with Sault Ste. Marie.
Last season, for Val-d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Kristopher Letang had 52 points in 40 games as a 19-year-old.
Letang was busy last season, starting in the NHL and eventually playing in an AHL playoff game. He also led Team Canada to its third consecutive gold medal at the World Junior Championships as a captain.
This season, Letang wants to cement his professional status in the same building where Coffey once flashed his skating skill.
"My confidence is high," Letang said. "I am ready."
The Penguins certainly hope Letang makes good on that proclamation.
A player of his talent could elevate an offensive attack that last season produced the third-most goals in the league.
Penguins scouts describe Letang as a smooth-skating defenseman with a quick, hard and sure shot and enviable hockey sense. He hasn't made a liar of them in the early days of this rookie camp.
Letang scored a goal and assisted on a tying tally that capped a Penguins' third-period comeback in their 6-5, shootout victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in both clubs' rookie tournament opener Friday.
Perhaps more important than his considerable skill, Letang is right-handed -- a rare trait among NHL-ready defenseman in the organization.
The question is whether Letang, with only eight NHL games to his credit, is ready enough to help the Penguins return to the playoffs.
"He was ready to move beyond junior (last season)," general manager Ray Shero said. "I do believe he is a player that can play this year -- not just play, but help our team at the NHL level.
"If it doesn't happen, then it is not fatal. I believe this kid will be a good player in the NHL for a long period of time, whether it happens now or somewhere down the line. ... But we made some changes during the summertime, and there is hole there. We will see if he can fill it."
With a spot among the top six defensemen perhaps his to lose, Letang spent the summer working on the defensive aspects of his game and training with would-be teammate Maxime Talbot.
Letang entered rookie camp attempting to look the part of a professional, with a robust 5-foot-11 frame and a short hair cut that came about because "maybe some people told (him) it was a good idea."
Looking like a pro will not make him one, though.
"Young defensemen are thrown into the fire in this league," new director of player development and 17-season NHL veteran Tom Fitzgerald said. "With a kid like him, he has to be patient. Less is more.
"His poise is incredible. I have watched a couple of drills here, and with all these kids, it is kind of chaotic because nobody knows the system. In the NHL, everybody knows the system. Things kind of take care of themselves. Kris, though, has the poise to be an NHL defenseman.
"Watching this guy, the best advice I can give him is to be patient because it will all come to him. He is that good."
Note : Forwards Angelo Esposito and Keven Veilleux didn't attend rookie camp because of injuries. Esposito, the 20th overall pick in June's entry draft, is nursing a sore groin. Team officials hope that Esposito could participate in veteran camp, which opens Thursday in Pittsburgh. Veilleux is recovering from a sports hernia surgery.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins’ Lovejoy embracing defensive pairing with Pouliot
- Penguins notebook: Road trip increases in difficulty
- Crosby, Malkin chase scoring title amid defense-minded league
- Penguins notebook: Crosby says he would play goal if needed
- Penguins forwards struggle in loss to Avalanche
- Finding perfect pairing for Ehrhoff key for Penguins
- Starkey: Penguins not mortgaging future
- Under Rutherford, it’s been a sizeable shakeup for Penguins
- Winnik impresses Penguins in first workout
- Baby Penguins notebook: Goalie Murray on historic run of success
- Penguins need trade-deadline acquisitions to bring toughness