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Kris Letang is still bringing it

We might not be talking about his play enough this season.

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

We have spent most of the 2023-24 Pittsburgh Penguins season marveling at Sidney Crosby’s continued excellence and his ability to defy all aging curves at the age of 36. It is for good reason, I might add. He has been spectacular. Dominant. He is one of the biggest reasons the team is still in Stanley Cup Playoff contention and he is doing everything he can to help drag them there.

Defenseman Kris Letang also deserves some praise along those same lines because he is also still rolling along on the verge of his 37th birthday. What is perhaps most impressive about his level of play is that he has been asked to take on — in some ways — a very different role and he still hasn’t really slowed down.

I will not argue that he has played at exactly the same level of Crosby, but he is still having a pretty remarkable season that puts him among the NHL’s best all-around defensemen.

First, some numbers (via Natural Stat Trick).

Of the 168 defensemen that have played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 play this season Letang’s overall rankings are....

Shot attempt share: 47th
Expected goals share: 31st
Goals share: 26th
Goals for per 60 minutes: 10th
Expected goals for per 60 minutes: 5th
Primary assists per 60 minutes: 5th
Assists per 60 minutes: 8th
Points per 60 minutes: 4th

In terms of driving offense, he is still pretty elite. Yes, some of that offensive production certainly comes from having an opportunity to share the ice with Crosby, but it’s not all about that. The Penguins are still averaging 3.16 goals per 60 minutes with Letang on the ice without Crosby.

But I think the thing that really deserves some attention here is that his offensive production as a whole — from a raw numbers standpoint anyway — is exactly equal to what he did a year ago despite seeing his power play usage get dramatically cut and his penalty kill usage dramatically increase.

Instead of being a part of the No. 1 power play unit and playing 3:37 per game on the power play (as he did a year ago), he has spent most of this season on the No. 2 power play unit and averaging just 1:46 per game on the power play.

On the opposite side of that he has gone from playing just 54 seconds per game on the penalty kill to play more than 2:22 per game.

He has also seen a small (very small, I should say) drop in his offensive zone start percentage (55 percent down to 52 percent).

In other words, he has essentially been asked to take on a significantly more defensive role and still hasn’t lost any of the offensive production he had a year ago. That is impressive.

Of all the veteran players the Penguins have re-signed over the past two years (Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell, Tristan Jarry) Letang was the one I had the least amount of concern over being worth the investment. He is fanatical about his training, he still looks (almost) as smooth as ever, and he is still wildly productive at his position and within his usage.

He is one of the Penguins’ all-time greats and he is still playing like it this season. I do not know if he maintains this level of play for two more full seasons after this, but it would not be unheard of for an elite defenseman with his skillset to maintain a high level of play deep into his 30s. That is great news for the Penguins.