Letang is fresh off another ill-fated season, as he appeared in just 41 games and missed the Penguins’ entire Stanley Cup run. Injuries -- most recently a neck ailment that required surgery -- have been plaguing the smooth-skating blueliner, and despite his offensive gifts (0.86 points per game over the last three seasons), fantasy owners have had to compensate for his frequent absences. After all, Letang hasn't played out a full 82-game campaign since 2010-11, and only once over that span has he cleared 70-plus outings. On a positive note, 148 of his 386 career points have come on the man advantage, and health permitting -- he’s aiming for Opening Night -- Letang should reprise his role as the team’s top blueliner and power-play quarterback. He averaged 25:31 of ice time even in an abbreviated 2016-17, so Letang’s fantasy owners will be in for a real treat if the veteran defenseman can shake off the injury bug this season.
After years of waiting through strokes, concussions and a series of unfortunate events, fantasy owners were treated to a relatively healthy season from Letang – and what a year it was. The defenseman carried Pittsburgh’s blue line, ranking seventh among NHL defenders in goals (16), second in assists (51) and third in points (67). Perhaps most impressively, Letang played in 71 games, his highest total since 2010-11. He finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting while averaging six minutes more of ice time (26:56) than any other Penguins player. The game will continue running through Letang’s stick for the foreseeable future, as he’s still only 28 years of age. Just keep in mind that his aggressive style of play – he registered 135 hits and 122 blocks – lends itself to injury.
Every year, Letang presents fantasy owners with a conundrum. When healthy, it's more than arguable that he's a top-three offensive defenseman in the NHL, but staying on the ice has been an issue for him throughout his career. Letang hasn't cleared 70 games in any of the last four seasons, although 2014-15 was in relative terms an iron-man year for him, as he missed "only" 13 contests to a groin injury and a concussion. He used that extra time on the ice to tie the previous season's career-high goal total (11) and set a new personal best in points (54), which will ensure that he's once again a high pick in fantasy drafts. With a fully healthy campaign, Letang seems a near-lock to clear 60 points and challenge for the Norris Trophy, but it seems more likely that one ailment or another will limit him to 60-odd games (in the best case), so he comes with a hefty side of risk.
Few players carry the spectrum of potential fantasy point production that Letang does. The former Norris Trophy finalist was struck by stroke in January and the fact that he came back in the same season says a lot about the blueliner. Despite suiting up for only 37 games, Letang scored a career-high 11 goals while adding 11 assists. Assistant coach Jacques Martin attempted to thwart Letang's risk-taking style of play, but it's thought that no other player might benefit with a new regime in place than the 27-year-old defender. Given Pittsburgh's plethora of young blueliners in the pipeline and Letang's $58 million contract, it's possible that the organization trades him at the dealine. In any case, health will dictate Letang's performance - he has missed 89 out of the team's last 212 regular-season contests.
The Penguins have 58 million reasons to expect big things from Letang for the next seven years. After signing the offensive defenseman to a long extension, the team will look for Letang to produce from the back line and add maturity to his overall game. Despite missing 13 games, his 38 points (5G, 33A) tied PK Subban for most among all NHL defenders. With 80 points in his last 86 contests, there's little doubt Letang produces at an elite level when healthy. He's battled concussion and leg issues the past couple seasons, but there's no reason to expect any sort of fall off from the 26-year-old blueliner -- so long as he stays healthy.
The phrase "breakneck speed" springs to mind whenever Letang's game is described. The Pittsburgh defenseman can take over a play in either end of the ice. He was on pace for a career-best season when a late November hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty wobbled him and forced him out for over a month. Even so, Letang compiled 42 points (10G, 32A) in 51 games. As a fantasy contributor, Letang offers hits (83), blocked shots (86) and penalty minutes (34). More than one-third of his points came on the power play (4G, 11A) and he's worked well with Sidney Crosby on the man advantage. Because of his style of play, injury will always present a heightened risk for Letang. That said, he ranks at the top of the fantasy list among defensemen. Be prepared to burn an early-round pick for Letang's services.
Letang experienced a tale of two seasons like no one else in 2010-11. The early-season Norris Trophy candidate tallied 40 points (7 G, 33 A) in his first 45 contests, only to score one goal and nine helpers the rest of the way. Whether he was overworked remains debatable, but one factor is undeniable: Letang missed Sidney Crosby's presence more than any other Pittsburgh skater. Letang and Crosby clicked on the man advantage and Crosby seemingly took Letang's game with him when he suffered a season-ending concussion. Letang is only 24 years of age, however, and still has plenty of room to grow. He's worked hard on improving his overall game in all aspects. Letang still collected 101 PIMs, 167 hits and 109 blocked shots, and his weak finish might actually make him somewhat undervalued in fantasy circles heading into 2011-12. Provided Crosby and Evgeni Malkin come back, it's not a reach to suggest a 60 point-plus season for the right-handed shooting defender.
Letang worked hard to improve his overall game in 2009-10 and his offense suffered as a result. At times it seemed as though Letang couldn’t hit the side of a barn door with his slap shot. Letang scored three times on 174 shots for a 1.7 shooting percentage – and that doesn’t include shots off the end boards or the glass. Nevertheless, Letang showed what he’s capable of when he netted five goals and seven points in 13 playoff games. In reality, Letang was likely stretched too thin last year by the paucity of capable and healthy blueliners on the roster. The 2010-11 season figures to be a better one for the 23-year-old after the team shored up its defensive corps in the offseason. Look for Letang to finish in the neighborhood of 35-40 points with Sergei Gonchar gone to Ottawa.
Sometime during the spring of 2009, Letang seemed to leapfrog over veteran standout Sergei Gonchar as the Penguins' most important all-around defenseman. He collected 33 points in 74 games in his first full NHL season, and that includes just one goal through late January. His 7.2 shooting percentage ranked 22nd among defenders and that's the tip of the iceberg. At 22 and two years younger than fellow future fantasy stud Alex Goligoski, Letang has the best fantasy upside of any Pittsburgh defenseman.
With Ryan Whitney out for at least two months to start the season, Letang will get a crack at playing a power-play point. Still only 20 years of age, Letang has the ability to succeed on the power play. Nine of his 17 points came on the man advantage in his rookie season. So long as Letang pays attention to his defensive details, the 2008-09 season could prove to be his breakout campaign.
Letang played seven games early in the 2006-07 season with the Penguins (he scored two goals) before returning to his junior team in the QMJHL. When the season was all said and done, Letang had a fantastic year for Val-d'Or and he also was the captain of the Canadian team that won the gold medal at the World Junior Championship. Letang can really provide offense from the blue line and he has a real shot to earn a full-time job in Pittsburgh this season. He is just another in a long line of fantastic young players that belong to the Penguins.
LeTang squeaked through the last cut with the Pens and will have to impress in his October audition or be returned to his junior team. LeTang has the rare righthanded shot on a team stacked with lefties. He's not afraid to shoot the puck and has plenty of offensive potential -- though he might be too green defensively to play consistently at the NHL level. He finished fourth on the team in preseason scoring with one goal and three assists and a plus-1 in four games.