Player Spotlight: Kris Letang

There is a fair amount of buzz this pre-season about 20-year old Defenseman Kris Letang.  Born April 24, 1987, in Montreal, Quebec, Letang was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third round (62nd overall) in the NHL 2005 NHL Entry Draft. 

Early in the 2006-07 season, Letang debuted in 7 games for the Penguins and scored 2 goals before being returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).  Both goals were scored on the power play, with the first one coming on the road against the New York Rangers on Oct 12, 2006, and the second one coming at home against the Carolina Hurricanes two nights later. 

Letang’s first NHL goal was historic in that Sidney Crosby (19) and Jordan Staal (18) both scored in the same game, making it the first time in 24 years that three teens from one NHL team scored in the same game.  Buffalo’s Dave Andreychuk, Paul Cyr and Phil Housley were the last to do it in 1982 as the Buffalo Sabres beat the Edmonton Oilers by a score of 6-4.

For the balance of the 2006-07 season, Letang played for the Val-d’Or Foreurs in the QMJHL.  As the team’s Captain, he had a tremendous season putting up 52 points (14G, 38A) in just 40 games.  He also managed a plus-19 rating.  His excellent play resulted in his selection to the QMJHL first-team all-stars.  He also picked up the QMJHL’s Emile “Butch” Bouchard Trophy as best defenseman, the Kevin Lowe Trophy as top defensive defensemen, and the Paul Dumont Trophy for personality of the year.     

Letang excelled in international play for Team Canada, winning gold in both 2006 and 2007 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.  His leadership as Captain of the 2007 team was instrumental in their gold medal performance. 

The scouting report on Letang is mixed.  He is noted for making smooth, smart passes coming out of the defensive zone.  He is also recognized as being very adept on the power play, with the ability to put up a great point shot.  It is noted that he is a bit undersized for the blueline, and that he needs to minimize mistakes in his off puck play to maximize his potential as a top four defenseman.  Hopefully his size can be compensated by agility and mitigated through conditioning, and the off puck mistakes will disappear through more experience.

Letang played in 3 of the 4 prospect camp games in Kitchener this past week and put up 2 points (1G,1A).  He struggled in the first period of the opener against Toronto, spotting the leafs 3 goals.  But he came back throughout the games and played strong.  There is little doubt about Letang’s offensive abilities, but his defensive play in his own zone will be the determining factor as to whether he plays in Pittsburgh or Wilkes-Barre this year.  The prevailing opinion is that Letang will open the season with the Penguins unless he fails to prove himself during training camp.  He believes he is ready for the NHL.

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