Offseason in gym has Penguins’ Kris Letang feeling ‘a million times better’ |
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Jonathan Bombulie
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang out on the ice after morning skate before 6 of the Stanley Cup Final Sunday, June 11 , 2017 at Bridgestone Arena.

Kris Letang is neither a doctor nor a mathematician, so this number isn’t official, but ask the 31-year-old defenseman how much better he feels approaching training camp now that he’s 17 months removed from major neck surgery and he doesn’t hesitate.

“Like a million times better,” Letang said after the Penguins held an informal workout Tuesday morning in Cranberry. “It’s not even close.”

There’s perhaps no better news the Penguins could receive two days before training camp starts.

Last year at this time, Letang was wondering how much a summer spent rehabbing rather than preparing for the season like he normally would affect his play.

He now has his answer.

He could still be on top of his game at times, but not nearly consistently enough to reach the all-star standard of play he set for himself in the past. He struggled early in the season. He fished more pucks out of his own net during a second-round playoff loss to the Washington Capitals than he’d care to remember.

In general, he has left those memories behind.

“I don’t really have to think about it,” Letang said. “I think we talked about it. It’s not like I went home and I was satisfied. I don’t really need to add anything about it. I just have to move on and look ahead.”

A well-known fitness fanatic, Letang feels a hard-working summer in the gym will help him rebound more than any quiet contemplation about past failings ever could.

“Mentally, you’re more sharp, so you can keep a high pace all game and be able to process everything the same way,” Letang said. “If you don’t train, yes you can have a good shift, but when the fatigue starts creeping on you, you start making bad decisions.”

“To have the whole summer to train, my body feels good. My cardio is good. My conditioning feels good.”

Thanks to the addition of free-agent defenseman Jack Johnson and the inevitable passage of time, there’s been some speculation over the summer that the Penguins might seek to limit Letang’s minutes in an effort to maximize his effectiveness.

Letang has an interesting take on that. He feels that his ice time, in a way, is something he can very directly control.

“I don’t have an opinion on that. I’m just telling you that if I play well, I play well and they put me on the ice. If I don’t, obviously you don’t want that guy on the ice,” Letang said. “That’s just how it’s going to go, I guess.”

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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