18 April 2019

  Who is Mark Letestu?

Detractors of the Penguins’ quest for success insist that the lack of depth up front seriously affects their chance at hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup. Those enthusiastic about 21-year-old left winger Eric Tangradi’s ascent to Pittsburgh should also stand charmed with the lunchpail-effort and versatility brought to the lineup by 25-year-old  Mark Letestu.

*Watch a training camp video with Letestu from 20 September 2010*

Mark LetestuTo begin the season in the lineup with the Penguins was a mild surprise, with most figuring that the right-handed centre would fade away after the injured Jordan Staal returns. Letestu is making a definite case for wearing the black, gold, and white for much longer. “I think versatility is something that’s key," he said in a frank discussion with Sam Kasan on a recent spotlight piece on NHL.com.

Undrafted, he made his way into the organization solely upon his own merit, Letestu is now pushing himself into head coach Dan Bylsma's thought process on a regular basis with his adeptness in every single situation presented to him early in the season. 

The resolve shown by the 5'11", 195 pound forward has been understated in the mass media;  has provided a calm but energetic centre in the absence of Staal, quietly noticing five points in the Pens' first six contests and three points in the past two games.

The NCAA's freshman scoring champion (46 points, 24 goals) in 2006-2007 for the Western Michigan Broncos(CCHA) trailed only defenseman Alex Goligoski and expensive talents of Sidney Crosby and Paul Martin in scoring for the Pens this early in the season. Letestu's 54.1% face-off percentage gives Pittsburgh another reliable pivot behind Crosby while Evgeni Malkin skates more effectively on the wing.

If his +2 rating, 18 shots, point and faceoff totals are not impressive enough, he also leads the team early on with two game winning goals. Those two goals also nets him a share of the league-lead with Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Sharp among others.

In the Penguins last game on 16 October against divisional foe Philadelphia, Letestu's game-winner with 45 seconds left in the second period perhaps sums up his entire career to this point. Completely covered by Chris Pronger when his team-mate Kris Letang fired a point shot that hit defenseman Matt Carle, Letestu pounced on the puck as James vanRiemsdyk tried to clear it, sweeping the puck past rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and taking the lead.

*See video of that and ALL of Letestu's goals this year*

LetestuAs for Letestu's backstory, it is one which he shows considerable faith in his own abilities, forcing the Penguins to notice. After being accepted into college, Letestu led all freshman in NCAA scoring and posted the most short-handed goals in the nation with five. He left the collegiate ranks after that year, and focused on a try-out contract with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL). There he translated it into a four-year gig which lined him up on the Penguins’ depth chart; he has taken a long road to prove his mettle.

The 25-year-old returned from a knee injury suffered early in the 2009-2010 year to finish third in scoring on the baby-Pens with 55 points (21 goals) and a +21 rating and 21 PIM in 63 games. Rewarded with a 10 game stint with the Pens mid-season last year; The former Alberta Junior Hockey League star with the Bonneville Pontiacs had a limited role but also appeared in four playoff games for Pittsburgh. The Penguins’ staff should be commended for their ability to provide a home for over-looked talent.

Proving himself is nothing new; Letestu plans on becoming a key piece of the leadership group moving forward. Coaching staffs adore the likes of low-maintenance players that routinely boost the scoresheet and the Elk Point, Alberta native is no stranger to providing a team with internal hunger and scoring depth.


18 October 2010 / Robin Keith Thompson

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