Apr 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) skates with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period in game one of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Johnston Feels Kris Letang Is Ready For Next Level

Kris Letang is a former Norris Trophy candidate, a prominent power play quarterback, and a deceptive two-way defensemen.

He’s also a stroke survivor, and a player coming off one of the more frightening campaigns of his career. Yet, through diligent rehabilitation, Letang was able to persevere, and achieve the impossible: by playing hockey before the season ended.

It’s alleviating to see Letang battle back from that attack, but now that he’s healthy, he must find a way to rekindle what morphed him into the conversation for best defensemen in the NHL. And despite having an abysmal 2013-14 season – one that’s unfair for us to judge him on – head coach Mike Johnston believes Letang’s going to bounce-back.

According to Dejan Kovacevic of DK on Pittsburgh Sports, Johnston was reportedly “genuinely moved” when he met up with Letang, and said he’s somebody ready to take it to the next level.

Here’s what Kovacevic reported:

“Johnston sounded genuinely moved by his meeting with Letang. Described Letang as someone who seems ready for the next level. Can’t stress this item enough. This was a big deal for the coach.”

Johnston likes an uptempo game, and defensemen who can move the puck. In the long run, the addition of Johnston may be what’s best for Letang. After all, Johnston coached the Pens’ top defensive prospect, Derrick Pouliot, over in the Western Hockey League (WHL), and he wound up being the best defensemen in the WHL.

Last season, Letang struggled mightily. He’d carelessly turn the puck over in the worst areas of the ice, be late on his reads, and take penalties at the most inopportune time. That’s not who Letang is, and that’s not how I envision him being again. He’s a great player – when he wants to be.

But Pittsburgh needs Letang to be who he was pre-stroke. And, Letang’s got to stay off injured reserve. For him to be successful, he’s got to take in a full season, and we haven’t seen that from Letang in quite a while. If he can manage to stay on the ice, there’s no limit to his productivity.

Am I expecting Letang to redeem himself? Wholeheartedly. Because I believe Johnston is the perfect guy to help Letang.

Will he exceed expectations? We’ll play that by ear.

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