Since he was drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005, Kris Letang has been touted, albeit somewhat unfairly, as the next Paul Coffey. Although he profiles to be more of a two-way defenseman, Letang's offensive prowess is what stands out the most.
Letang's physical talent is undeniable. He is one of the fastest skaters in the league, seemingly never trapped when the play is going the other way. He also possesses a decent shot, smooth stick handling moves, and, at times, unbelievable vision. His physicality makes him a lot tougher to play against in comparison to Coffey. In fact, there have also been comparisons made between Letang and a smaller version Chris Pronger.
But lately, especially on the biggest stage, Letang has shown more semblance to "Nuke" Laloosh, the superstar pitcher played by Tim Robbins in the 1988 classic, Bull Durham. Letang's talent is sometimes wasted by his immaturity; or, as Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) puts it, "Million dollar arm, ten cent head."
Nothing was more evident of Letang's immaturity and lack of composure than his brief performance in game 3 of the Eastern quarterfinals against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday. After telling reporters that the Penguins would play a more defensively focused game, Letang completely went against his own words 20 seconds into the game.
After the Penguins recover from an immediate Paul Martin turnover, the puck gets dumped into the Flyers' zone. While Pittsburgh is in the process of trying to recover the puck and set up a cycle, Letang pinches between the face-off circles in front of Ilya Bryzgalov, leaving Martin to fend for himself on the blue line.
That's being more defensive?
It gets better. After Matt Niskanen takes a cross checking penalty to put the Flyers on the power play, Letang cross checks Sean Couturier to give the Flyers a 5 on 3 advantage. Less than a minute later, Daniel Briere scores to put the Flyers up by two.
Rather than cooling down and realizing that the only way to effectively defeat a team is to outscore them, Letang ends up fighting Kimmo Timmonen just four minutes after Briere's goal. He pounds the snot out of Timmonen but, in the process, gets ejected from the game and then proceeds to shush the crowd as Max Talbot did three years ago. Within 12 minutes of the game, Letang has committed a penalty that directly resulted in a goal, a fighting major, game misconduct and subsequent ejection.
You want to shush the crowd? Try making a play. Instead of using your stick to slash and hack players, try using it to take away a passing lane.
This is not the behavior of a Paul Coffey, Nick Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara or even Chris Pronger caliber player. Talent-wise, he has the potential to reach that level. But the lack of composure and discipline, especially against a team that is pushing you to the brink of elimination, is inexcusable. The talk of Letang being a Norris candidate should be placed on hold until he shows the maturity to manage that kind of situation.
The defensive zone coverage and decision making abilities on the breakout are both areas of needed improvement and Letang has shown a steady growth in both areas since coming up with the club in 2007. The turnovers are still evident and, at times, he appears to lose complete focus in his own zone. However, those issues should resolve themselves with experience. The maturity level needs to be fixed immediately. The Penguins cannot afford to have Letang take stupid selfish penalties when he is depended on as the biggest scoring threat on the blue line, by far.