Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero is really good at getting quality players for good deals. Well I think it's safe to say that he got the Penguins another bargain when he signed defenseman Kris Letang to a new deal this past March. Letang was signed to a four-year contract extension that runs through the 2013-14 season with the Penguins worth an annual $3.5 million.
When Letang for made his debut, many fans and critics were skeptical of his game. He took some big risks on the ice and often left his defense out to dry when he tried to join the rush. He was often criticized for being out of position and being careless with the puck.
My how things have changed. Letang is having a huge 2010-2011 season so far, second to Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien in terms of points by a defensman with 26 points. Letang already has more goals than he did last season with five, and is on pace to have 14 goals and 74 points this year.
Letang's offensive performance can't be underestimated considering that they cut ties with Sergei Gonchar, was a very good offensive defenseman for the Penguins the last three years. Letang has not been as strong as Gonchar on the power-play, having just seven power-play points. But Letang has replaced Gonchar as far as a strong offensive presence on the blue-line for the Pens.
The most impressive thing about Letang is the amount of confidence he seems to have on the ice. Now he seems to have an understanding of when it's ok to take certain risks on the ice in terms of joining the rush. He's become so comfortable on the ice that his playing time continues to increase. Letang is now averaging over 21 minutes of ice time per game and is often on the ice when the opposing team has their top line on the ice.
Pens' fans aren't the only ones noticing Letang's play. ESPN currently has him as the top contender for the Norris Trophy, which is given to the NHL"s best defenseman at the end of the season. Letang is also the top vote getter for the 2010-2011 NHL All-Star game for defensemen, which is really impressive being that he wasn't even on the ballot, you literally had to write his name for to vote for him.
It's not all Letang though, the Pens defense as a core has been very impressive this year, especially during this ten game win streak. Brooks Orpik, Letangs partner on defense, should also be given some credit for Letang's breakout season. Orpik is a very tough, and smart defensmen, who often covers for Letang, allowing Letang to join the offensive rush.
At just the age of 23, it's Letang's play seems even more impressive. His potential seems sky high and Letang could very well develop into one of the best offensive defensemen of his era. Here's hoping.