Team Canada World Junior hopeful Kristopher Letang patterns himself after Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Dan Boyle, and it’s a pattern he wears well.
The 2005 fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins is quick on his feet, adept at making a first pass out of his zone, and eager to join the rush when he gets the opportunity.
Like his Tampa Bay hero, Letang is 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, and must work hard to compete with much larger players on the rink.
If this 18-year-old Montrealer is to make the team, he must play to his strengths. “My role is to carry the puck, make a good first pass, and take hard shots on net,” said Letang. “I still need to improve that.”
The offensive-minded blueliner’s QMJHL team, the Val-D’Or Foreurs, is 12-21-1 and recently fired head coach Claude Bouchard. The team had lost three straight before Letang and Val-D’Or teammate Luc Bourdon left for Vancouver.
“I think it’s good to be here [at the selection camp now],” said Letang.
Like Bourdon, Letang has demonstrated a steady presence, and he’s also been a prolific scorer in the early part of the season. With 12 goals, six assists, and 67 PIM, he is on pace to improve on last season’s totals significantly. In 2003-04, he had 13 goals, 19 assists and 117 penalty minutes.
On Monday, Letang skated with Medicine Hat’s Cam Barker in Team Red’s morning practice. The two defencemen were also paired at August’s Development Camp in Whistler and Vancouver, B.C., and evidently Head Coach Brent Sutter felt it was worth continuing with this combo.
Although Barker’s style is different from Bourdon’s, Letang doesn’t plan to change his game to suit Barker’s in order to make the team.
“I think I don’t have to change my game,” said the left-shooting rearguard. “They chose me to be here for some reason. I have to just play my game and not change [it]-- I have to just focus on the details.”
This will be the second straight year that Letang has represented Canada at an international tournament. In April, he suited up at the IIHF U-18 World Championship in the Czech Republic, winning a silver medal. Bourdon was also part of that squad, and Letang doesn’t skimp on praise for his good friend.
“He’s a guy who hits hard and has a very good shot,” said Letang. “I think he is a very fast guy, and he is the strongest guy I know. He is a team leader and a good guy.”
Should Bourdon be in the NHL right now after a strong pre-season showing with the Vancouver Canucks?
“I think [Bourdon] made the team,” Letang said. “But it’s the Canucks’ decision and not mine.”
With all the talk about Bourdon in this city, Letang might be overlooked by some observers. But “the other” Val-D’Or Foreur defenceman hasn’t forgotten why he’s here, and he’ll do everything he can to be part of the final roster announced December 16.