As far as fourth line players go, Edmonton Oilers centre Mark Letestu is a rare breed. Like most bottom six forwards, the Elk Point native plays a key role on the man advantage but sees minimal time at even strength. A role which is typically filled by your prototypical energy guy, in this particular case, it has nothing to do with energy and everything to do with the offensive production he delivers on the man advantage.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 20, 2017
With last night’s overtime winner against the Chicago Blackhawks his most recent contribution, Letestu has now scored power-play goals in back-to-back games and looks to be picking up where he left off in 2016-17. A year in which the 32-year old set a career high with 11 goals on the man advantage and picked up 17 of his 35 points via special teams. Not exactly the kind of numbers one expects to see from a fourth line player.
Letestu is the Oilers Specialist
In a lineup which has yet to find Connor McDavid a full-time trigger man on the wing, Letestu has managed to fill the role admirably on the power play and he is showing no signs of slowing down. Though some have suggested he should be elevated in the lineup, Todd McLellan has done the exact opposite. To his credit, the head coach already watched that movie play out in a less than desirable fashion in 2015-16 and is in absolutely no rush to see it again.
When it comes to Letestu, it has become crystal clear that he is more effective when there is less on his plate. With that being the case, why anyone would want to mess with something that is working just fine, is beyond me. From a production standpoint, the numbers speak for themselves. In 166 games with Edmonton, the veteran pivot has 62 points and only 28 have come at even strength. Still not sold? Keep on reading and that might change.
When we take look at just goals, 20 of the 28 Letestu has scored since joining the Oilers have come on the power play (16) or shorthanded (4). Last time I checked, there is nothing wrong with having a guy who can be plugged into spots when needed and have him take a seat when that need is not so great. If anything, it’s a blessing. With No. 97 on this roster, the need to find him as much ice as possible at even strength should be a priority one…on a nightly basis.
Less Letestu Should Mean More McDavid
When it comes to matchups, the Oilers will be favoured in every single head-to-head with McDavid and if Letestu needs to sit to make that happen, so be it. On most nights, he is going to see in and around 14 minutes of ice and how it is divvied up is of no real consequence. Like any other player, the sole focus should be to place him in a spot where he can be most impactful and hopefully that won’t change…be it due to injury or anything else.
Though his production on the man advantage has been more consistent since arriving in Edmonton, the two-time 30-point man has shown a knack for picking up points on the power play throughout his career. When given the chance, he managed to do similar things with both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Again, it is a luxury and one that, frankly, almost no other team in the league has at their disposal.
What a shot by Letestu. Oilers well deserved victory.
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) October 20, 2017
It all seems fairly straightforward and as long as Mark Letestu can continue to produce at or near the level he has shown since joining the Edmonton Oilers, he will be given plenty of opportunities to do his thing. Which is to be the most impactful fourth liner in the NHL and that in itself is a massive win for this club.
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Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.