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ESPN's Pierre Lebrun Hearts (and Harts) Kris Letang

Kris Letang appeared favorably in ESPN's Pierre Lebrun's look at early-season Norris contenders a few weeks back, and it's no different for Lebrun's front-runners for league MVP. Letang is ranked third, behind Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and Toronto's Phil Kessel. Quoth Lebrun:

Fifth in the NHL in ice time at 26:46 per game and putting up a point a game, we wonder where the Penguins would be without their all-world blue line, given Sidney Crosby’s absence and all the other injuries the Penguins have had. He plays in all key situations. He’s a horse and he’s a huge reason why the Pens keep rolling along.

Ok, everyone raise your hand if you had Giroux, Kessel and Letang as the top three candidates for league MVP six weeks ago before the season started. No hands, huh?

We'll see if Letang can keep up his play- if he continues to rack up points he'll continue to turn heads league wide. Last season KL58 started the season on a tear, scoring 41 points (9 goals, 34 assists) in the first 50 games before the all-star break with a plus/minus of +22. Then, as the Pens injuries mounted up, Letang only recorded 9 points (1g, 8a) and a -7 +/- in the team's last 32 games. Keep Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby healthy and Letang will likely flourish.

As for the ice-time, that should gradually come down too. With injuries at varying times to Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek this season, Dan Bylsma has had to lean a little harder on Letang than he would probably like. And while Letang has played over 29:00 four times this season, he ought to see his load lessened (hopefully) once the Pens are returned to health. Letang's got the conditioning and energy to play 25 minutes a night, but it's not a good idea in such a long season to put him out there 29-32 minutes, like Pittsburgh has had to do in some of their OT games.

Either way, some well deserved props for the Penguins young blueliner. But are they deserved? James Neal has come to life with 12 goals, 8 assists in 15 games. Marc-Andre Fleury has a sub 2.00 GAA (1.96), a .929 save percentage and a 10-2-1 record. Evgeni Malkin has returned from a knee injury and brought back his game-breaking ability. Jordan Staal has played at almost a point-per-game production rate as well as his stellar defensive and positioning game. Letang, while a standout, has had a lot of help.

After the jump, vote on your most valuable Penguin to this point.

Pierre LeBrun asks where the Pens would be without Kris Letang. But we know Pittsburgh's benefited from a lot more than Letang so far this season. Is he your early season MVP?