Everybody needs a Swiss Army knife come playoff time, even if the blade is a bit dull on this one.
Mark Letestu has been a jack of all trades during his three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, but that stint is likely coming to an end at this month’s trade deadline. The team is essentially out of the playoff race and Letestu’s versatility should be in demand as a rental — a pending unrestricted free agent who could always circle back to Edmonton in the offseason.
Letestu isn’t the sexiest name on the block, but he’s still very serviceable. The 33-year-old pivot is one of those five-tool players, capable of contributing on both special teams, winning key faceoffs and serving as a veteran leader. Interested teams, the playoff-bound buyers, would most likely want Letestu for his penalty-killing prowess, so it won’t matter much that he’s lost his touch as the triggerman on Edmonton’s top power-play unit.
Letestu’s offence has dried up, with only one point in 19 games since he last scored a goal on Dec. 18. He’s sitting at eight goals and 17 points through 53 games — on pace for 12 goals and 26 points in 81 games, having recently sat one out as a healthy scratch.
Of his eight goals, three have come on the power play and two were shorthanded. Last season, Letestu netted a career-high 16 goals, including 11 on the power play and two shorthanded. He also had a career-high 35 points over 78 games.
It has been frustrating times for the Oilers and Letestu but, despite this cold streak, he should still have decent trade value. Decent as in a mid-round draft pick — possibly as high as a second, if a bidding war breaks out between multiple teams — or a mediocre prospect, or maybe a similar but younger roster player still under team control.
As for who might be pursuing Letestu, a couple of his former teams come to mind amongst these three potential suitors.
1) Pittsburgh Penguins
Letestu broke into the league in Pittsburgh’s organization, playing parts of three seasons with the Penguins, including a second-best 14-goal campaign in his first full NHL season (2010-11).
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions wouldn’t be acquiring Letestu for his scoring, but rather as a shutdown type to anchor their fourth line and kill penalties. Pittsburgh is in the market for that kind of role player, having yet to replace Matt Cullen’s presence.
McKenzie: The Penguins were after Pageau, but it doesn't sound like Pageau is a go. Mark Letestu is a consideration, but might be more of what they already got.
— JB (@JBSportsTalk9) February 10, 2018
The Penguins have their second-round pick in 2018 but would prefer to part with Vancouver’s fourth or Detroit’s fifth. Pittsburgh could also offer a lesser-known minor-leaguer, including recent call-ups Jean-Sebastien Dea or Teddy Blueger. Adam Johnson and Thomas DiPauli could be other options.
None of whom are worth getting too excited over from an Edmonton perspective, but prospects like Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon, Zach Aston-Reese and Jordy Bellerive probably wouldn’t be available for Letestu. Perhaps Kasper Bjorkqvist or Jan Drozg, but they both have a long way to go in becoming pros.
2) Columbus Blue Jackets
Letestu also spent four seasons with Columbus before coming to Edmonton. It’s a different regime there now, with Jarmo Kekalainen and John Tortorella in charge, but the Blue Jackets could look into bringing Letestu back for a second spin.
Columbus is lacking depth down the middle and Letestu could solidify a fourth line that Tortorella trusts in taking a regular shift. Letestu could be a good fit with Matt Calvert and possibly Jussi Jokinen, who flanked Letestu briefly in Edmonton to start this season.
Sonny Milano and Lukas Sedlak could interest the Oilers — more so Milano for his offensive skill-set, but the Blue Jackets wouldn’t do that deal straight up. Milano has more value than Letestu and Columbus might ask Edmonton to add a defence prospect like Seth Jones’ brother, Caleb, but the Oilers probably wouldn’t want Milano that bad.
Columbus has its own second-, third- and fourth-round picks to offer as well as intriguing prospects like Paul Bittner, Calvin Thurkauf and Kale Howarth. Vitaly Abramov is likely off limits and the Blue Jackets are really high on Alexandre Texier and Andrew Peeke too.
3) Los Angeles Kings
Boston and Carolina were also considered as possible landing spots for Letestu, but Los Angeles seems to have more of a pressing need.
The Kings will be getting Jeff Carter back before playoffs, with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe centering two other scoring lines. As of now, that would leave Torrey Mitchell, Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff as fourth-line options. Not terrible, but Letestu would be an upgrade on all of them.
Edmonton and Los Angeles have already made one minor deal as division rivals this season, swapping Jokinen for Mike Cammalleri. Peter Chiarelli and Rob Blake could connect again at the trade deadline, with Shore, Andreoff or Jonny Brodzinski as possible returns for Letestu. Nothing special there for the Oilers, but Shore and Brodzinski do have a bit of offensive upside.
Los Angeles has its own second- and third-round picks for 2018, plus two fourths and two sixths. Edmonton might target Kailer Yamamoto’s junior teammate Jaret Anderson-Dolan or Lloydminster product Kale Clague, but the Oilers would have to add something substantial to get either of them. Reality is, they might not be available. Spencer Watson and Austin Wagner would be less of a reach for Letestu.
Well, what do you think — which team is going to acquire Letestu? Pittsburgh, Columbus, Los Angeles or somebody else?
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.