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Letestu may play on wing after Staal's return

Monday, Oct. 25, 2010

TAMPA, Fla. — Four goals in nine games got Mark Letestu a steel chair as a makeshift locker stall inside an auxiliary dressing room at St. Pete Times Forum.

"Panic time," he joked after a Penguins practice Sunday.

If Letestu fails to score Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he will match his season high for consecutive games without a tally: two.

No wonder he is taking part in drills designated for wingers. With injured center Jordan Staal perhaps only a few weeks from playing and Letestu's season goal pace down to a mortal 36 — well, clearly he should exhaust all options to remain a fixture in the Penguins' lineup.

Evgeni Malkin, himself a natural center now playing on the wing, recognized the sarcasm in that last sentence. He then offered a scouting report on Letestu:

"From what I see, he is very smart, has great position every time and can score some goals because of his (positioning) and play with the puck," he said. "And he has a very good shot — no, a great shot."

Perhaps it is not too early to wonder whether Letestu has a shot to provide the Penguins something they've lacked in the salary-cap era: a player from the system to come from seemingly nowhere and become a major contributor.

Not enough games have been played to declare Letestu that (From) Nowhere Man, but he has impressed the player with whom he soon could be sharing a line.

"There are moments in a game, especially when you're watching from up top like I've been doing, where you can tell what a smart player would do as opposed to a regular player," Staal said. "He's always the smart player in those moments."

Perhaps Letestu will have as many goals this time next month as he does now (four). However, a lot can be read into him working with assistant coach Tony Granato on basic elements of playing on the wing — board work and neutral-zone positioning, specifically.

More can be read into these words from coach Dan Bylsma: "Right now, he has done a great job at center. ... If he could be an offensive player and a threat (on the wing), you may look to get him in that position when Jordan comes back. But if he continues to play center like he is right now, he may make a bid for a third-line center position and solidify that."

Seemingly the only sure thing about Letestu is that he is not a lock to be part of the plan moving forward — not that he's taking anything for granted.

"I haven't been told, 'Get ready to play wing,' " he said. "But when Jordan and Arron (Asham) get back into the lineup, there is obviously going to be some shuffling — and I'd like to still find myself somewhere near the top six."

Additional Information:

Professor Talbot teaches transition

Penguins forward Max Talbot has played a center-wing hybrid since Dan Bylsma was hired in February 2009. His explanation on how that role fits within the coach's system:

» 'Puck retrieval is huge. Whoever is first in the (defensive) zone has that responsibility to help the defensemen. Down low, if you call for a switch and help the defensemen, that is going to be the job of the center.'

» 'Neutral zone is the only difference, the only transition. When we go (defenseman-to-defenseman passing), you need to support as the wing.'

» 'Wall play is a little harder (for a natural center on the wing), but it doesn't take that long to get adjusted. If you play a (penalty-killing) role, you do a lot of wall plays, so you have that experience.'




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