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Happy Birthday, Kris Letang

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A look back at the best defenseman in the history of the Penguins for his 33rd birthday.

2020 NHL All-Star - Portraits Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Kris Letang has been doing great things for the Penguins for nearly 14 years, but hardly gets the recognition for his excellence thanks to being in the shadows of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for most of his career. But as the French-Canadian turns 33 yesterday, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments of his career.

Letang holds most records for defenseman in Penguins history, and he’s so far ahead of nearly everyone that it will be a long time before another player sniffs Letang’s numbers. As of now, Letang is 100-plus more games played than Brooks Orpik, almost 20 goals ahead of Paul Coffey (in almost 500 more games, to be fair), nearly 80 assists more than Coffey, and twice as many game-winning goals as Larry Murphy. Those are three of the greatest blueliners in Penguins history, and they all fall short in comparison to Letang in the record books.

The playoffs are more of the same story for Letang. He’s played in 40 more games than Orpik for most ever in Pens’ history with 132 career playoff games. He’s got a slight edge over Larry Murphy with six more goals - 21 for Letang to Murphy’s 15 - and only two assists - 59 for Letang, 57 for Murphy. Letang also has two more game-winners than Gonchar who has three to his name. One of those game-winners for Letang will be mentioned below...

So instead of words, let’s look at some highlights of number 58:

Have to start with his greatest moment with the Penguins:

Letang brings home the Cup to Pittsburgh in 2016 when he victimizes three Sharks players starting at the blue line when he sells a slap shot then gracefully spins away and creates room for himself to bring the puck down low. He throws a puck towards the net that Crosby finds and quickly gives back to Letang on the opposite side of the ice and buries a puck that turned out to be the Cup-winning goal in 2016 for the Penguins. One of the greatest goals in the history of the Penguins, and it fully showcased the skill that Letang brings each game.

2016 wasn’t the only time Letang was the hero. The Penguins were in a 2-0 series hole in Game 3 at The Igloo in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Washington Capitals when Letang changed the course of history. After the Capitals tied it in the final moments of regulation, Letang untied the game in overtime off a faceoff win from Crosby:

That goal gave the Penguins some life after losing Game 1 and 2 by one goal each. The Penguins won Game 4 at home and Game 5 in Washington before dropping Game 6 and winning Game 7 by a 6-2 final. Letang scored his third goal of that series 2:12 into the 2nd period to put the Penguins ahead 4-0 and put the game out of reach at that point.

Letang is about as good as it gets in the shootout, too. He was lethal from his very first attempt and has fooled many goalies throughout his career in the skills competition:

He can score in more ways than on breakaways, too:

These videos barely scratch the surface when it comes to the all-around player that Letang is. He can pass the puck, hit effectively, read plays quickly and correctly defensively, create space for him and others offensively and the area he is most effective at is his speed and agility.

When he was younger, there wasn’t any player in the NHL who could burn Letang. Letang was almost never out of position because of his ability to close the gap between him and the puck carrier. He’s lost a step or two now after being in the league for 14 seasons, but Letang is still one of the graceful skaters I’ve ever seen play hockey.

Letang is one of the most talked about player for the Penguins. When he’s at his best he’s without a doubt one of the most skilled and entertaining defenseman in the game. When he gets flustered he can be one of the most frustrating players to watch play for your team. He can score the most amazing goal you’ll ever see then lose his composure minutes later, taking a penalty in retaliation over something small or mouthing off to a referee after getting a call. You take the bad with the good, and the good outweighs the bad when it comes to Letang.

There’s no doubt whatsoever that he is one of the best defenseman to ever wear the skating Penguin jersey. I’m sure most fans would agree that we’re happy to have him and wishing him a happy birthday.