Letang accepts role change, 1 shy of 700th NHL point with Penguins

Letang accepts role change, 1 shy of 700th NHL point with Penguins

CRANBERRY, Pa. — Kris Letang wanted to have children early in his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Alex, a son, was born to the defenseman and Catherine Laflamme in Nov. 2012. Six years later, their daughter, Victoria, was born in July 2018.

The time since has only validated the decision for Letang, now one point from 700 in the NHL.

“It’s actually something I discuss with my wife,” Letang said. “I say, ‘The reason why I wanted my kids younger, it’s because I wanted them to be able to see me play.’ I know it’s not going to be forever.

“To see their dad, what he does every single day, I thought it was something important. Obviously, Victoria at five now, she can realize what I’m doing. She kind of gets it. She likes to play a little bit of hockey when we’re all at home.”

Letang could become the 29th NHL defenseman to reach 700 points and the third active, joining Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brent Burns (844 points; 248 goals, 596 assists) and fellow Pittsburgh defenseman Erik Karlsson (776 points; 183 goals, 593 assists).

The 36-year-old has the most points (699), goals (157), assists (542) and games played (1,019) by a defenseman in Penguins history. He has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 14 games this season entering a matchup against the New Jersey Devils at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN-PIT, MSG, SNO, SNE).

This season, Letang’s 18th in the NHL, has been slightly different, though.

Karlsson was acquired by Pittsburgh from San Jose in a three-team trade involving the Montreal Canadiens on Aug. 6. Karlsson won the Norris Trophy as the League’s best defenseman last season with 101 points (25 goals, 76 assists) in 82 games.

He has taken some of Letang’s ice time. After trailing Karlsson in average ice time for the first month of the season, Letang is playing 24:32 per game and Karlsson is playing 24:18. Last season Letang averaged 24:51 and the season before he averaged 25:46.

More importantly, Karlsson, who has 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 14 games, has replaced Letang at the point on the top power-play unit. After beginning the season on the left flank there, Letang has been moved back to the point but on the second unit.

Letang is being used more on the penalty kill, averaging 2:46 when short-handed. Last season, he averaged 56 seconds.

“The game has to come a little slower, but I feel pretty good out there conditioning-wise,” Letang said. “A little bit of a different role, more on the PK this year. I feel pretty good about that.”

Not much else has changed for Letang, who led Penguins defensemen with 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) in 64 games last season.

Letang starts practice by stepping through the bench door and sprinting to the opposite end. He is one of the last to leave.

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