After 16 seasons in the NHL, Kris Letang has posted a career-high 68 points. Letang has been an elite defenseman for his entire career, yet in 2022, he has barely been mentioned as one of the league’s leading blueliners. This begs the question, at age 35, is his outstanding level of play simply flying under the radar at this point?
Letang’s 2021-22 Season
Letang has been a force on the Pittsburgh Penguins for years, helping lead the team to 16 consecutive playoff appearances and three Stanley Cups. In his NHL career, he has led the team in scoring by a defenseman 11 times and put up 650 points in 941 games. Although this season specifically, Letang produced his highest point total ever.
This type of production from a defenseman in their mid-30s is a rare feat, and to Letang’s credit, has only been achieved by some of the NHL’s all-time great defensemen. It is truly remarkable for him to be playing at this level, posting new season highs, this late in his career.
Sharing the Spotlight with Other Elite Defensemen
Given the many elite defensemen in today’s NHL, including the Nashville Predators’ Roman Josi and the Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar, who are producing Hart Trophy-worthy campaigns, is Letang’s excellence simply being overshadowed this season? This could be the case with other young stars emerging as well, such as Adam Fox of the New York Rangers and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks, who deliver dazzling plays almost every night.
Not to take anything away from them, but the reality may be that Letang just hasn’t been a main focal point with the emergence of these incredible players. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t diminish the high-caliber offensive production he has produced at 35. His brilliance lies with the fact that in the 16th season of his career, he is still an absolute game-breaking player. He was able to produce his best offensive numbers well past the statistical “prime” of an NHL player, which typically occurs between ages 24-27. The test of time has yet to face these up-and-coming superstars, but he has proven that it seems to have no perceivable impact on him. We’ve become accustomed to his consistency, but the fact that he is still ranked top-ten in points per game among defensemen this season at (0.87), should not go under the radar.
Letang’s Impact on the Game
Letang has had a Hall-of-Fame career in Pittsburgh, producing outstanding consistency, but he has outdone himself this season. His creativity and high hockey IQ allow him to shut down the opposition’s best or lead the rush the other way. Not to mention, his textbook skating style is unparalleled, and something young players everywhere try to emulate. Also, his high fitness level this late in his career is probably one of his most impressive traits, as he ranked 4th league-wide in ice time this season, averaging 25:47 per game.
Letang’s combination of consistency and longevity have made him a dynamic player for quite some time. He is on pace to reach his 1,000th game next season, and it hasn’t come without judgment. Many have criticized his game over the years, mentioning his overaggressiveness, lack of discipline, and inability to stay healthy. But the reality is that he has refined every aspect of his game to become the standard of an elite defenseman and the centerpiece of the Penguins’ defensive core.
Hopefully, fans continue to recognize and appreciate his outstanding level of play produced this season as well as over his entire career, despite the up-and-coming or newly-established elite defensemen who might overshadow his accomplishments.
My name is Ray Lindow and I am a recent graduate of Duquesne University. I have spent almost my entire life playing and following hockey. My passion for the game runs deep, and I could not be happier to be writing for The Hockey Writers and covering the Pittsburgh Penguins.