Sergei Gonchar changed destinations this off-season and left quite the void to fill in the Pens’ offensive-defenseman department. Gonchar, who played 5 seasons with the Pens, managed to put up 259 points (54-205—259) in 322 games.
Those are the type of statistics you would expect from a future hall of fame defenseman.
He will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest offensive-defensemen to ever play the game. So, filling the void he left behind will not be an easy task. The most likely candidate at being Gonchar’s replacement would be Kris Letang.
Letang has three seasons of NHL experience and a Stanley Cup under his belt. He has put up 79 points (21-58—79) in 217 games. Letang had one more point than Gonchar did in his first three seasons, but also played in 51 more games.
So what does that tell us then?
Well, it shows that Letang obviously has the skill set to produce on the Pens blue line. The question is whether or not he’s ready to step up his game and become what Pens management has envisioned him to be.
He has all the skills and qualities to be an offensive threat on the blue line, provided his shots actually hit the net. Last season showed us that Letang’s accuracy definitely needs to improve. There were many missed opportunities throughout last season that made most question Letang’s offensive prowess.
He did manage to score five goals in 13 playoff games this past postseason. That means that the accuracy is there, he just needs to become more consistent with it. Whether or not his sloppy play in the defensive zone can be fixed is another story.
At times last season, Letang didn’t have enough patience with the puck and committed a lot of turnovers. He wasn’t the only one though. I think we can all agree that the Pens’ defense was just outright horrible to watch at times last season. Especially in the final two games of the Montreal series.
Penguins GM Ray Shero addressed the issues with the defense this off-season and brought in two players who understand the fundamentals of playing sound defense. Once the defense actually gels, it is going to give Letang the opportunity to get more involved in the offense.
There is no reason to think that Letang can’t fill Gonchar’s skates. A lot of fans, including myself, sometimes forget that he’s only 23 years old. Usually a 23-year-old defenseman is just breaking into the league and he’s already played in three seasons.
He’s a $3.5 million dollar cap hit now and has four seasons remaining on his contract. Pens management must have a lot of faith in the kid by giving him that much of a significant pay raise.
I think some of that may have to do with the fact that he’s a right handed shot. They are a highly sought-after commodity in the NHL.
Regardless of the reasoning, the fact remains that his salary went up and the expectations surrounding him increased as well. With Gonchar gone, all the focus will now shift to Letang to become the next gifted offensive-defenseman of the team.
Letang has shown glimpses of what the future holds, let’s just hope he’s willing to show up and prove he’s up to the task.