PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Penguins welcomed back four players to practice on Monday.
Kris Letang (stroke), Beau Bennett (wrist), Chris Kunitz (leg) and James Neal (concussion) all participated in today’s practice.
While it was announced on Sunday that Letang would return, the news may come as a shock after he suffered a stroke back on Jan. 29.
Letang underwent a six-week treatment of blood-thinners after being diagnosed. While he has been cleared to be a full participant in practice, there is no timetable for his return to the lineup.
“My main thing, like I said earlier, was they mentioned I would be alright and I will be able to play again, but I don’t know when. I had tests last week to see if I could go off the blood thinners. The answer was yes, so that’s why I’m practicing today,” Letang said.
Despite not having a timetable, Letang made it clear that his goal is to play again this season.
“There was no doubt in my mind. Even the day I got the stroke I asked the doctor, ‘When am I going to be able to play again?’ So, there is no doubt about it that if I’m on the ice today, it’s because I want to return,” Letang said. “[Practice] felt pretty good. I’ve been skating on my own and working out at a pretty high pace.”
Letang did say that his teammates initially took it easy on him in practice. However, he told some of the players not to do so.
“Guys were kind of being really careful every time we were going into the corner, but I kind of told them they can go as hard as they can. That’s the main reason why I’m out there,” Letang said. “I just want to get to the same pace I was before.”
Letang has been working with a team of doctors, who eventually cleared him to return to the ice this morning.
“They did all the tests possible to make sure I can be alright on the ice,” Letang said.
It was previously reported that Letang had a small hole in his heart from birth. However, it is not certain what role, if any, that played in suffering the stroke.
“We’re not sure 100 percent that it is the cause. There’s many other reasons you can have a stroke. We don’t want to really worry about the heart right now. We just want to worry that my system is cleared of the symptoms,” Letang said.
As for whether or not Letang is worried about suffering another stroke, he said he can’t worry about that happening right now.
“I was not worried when it happened. It never crossed my mind I could have a stroke at 26, but if I’m worried that I’m going to step out there and it’s going to happen, who knows? But, I’m not going to worry about that,” Letang said. “First, they said I was in .01 percent of that happening, so pretty small.”
“From what we know, it could have been something else [other than the hole in the heart]. It could go away and never happen again, but we didn’t really talk about if it could happen again. Yes, it could because it happened once, but there’s no percentage.”
Could James Neal Play Against Dallas Tomorrow?
As for Neal, he missed the weekend series against the Flyers after being diagnosed with a concussion last week.
However, Neal hinted that he may be ready to take on his former team when the Penguins host the Dallas Stars tomorrow night.
“As long as I’m good all day today and see what goes on tomorrow. If I feel good in the morning, there’s no reason why I can’t keep going,” Neal said.
It’s still unclear when Neal suffered the concussion. While he wouldn’t elaborate on the timing of it, he did say that it wasn’t nearly as severe as the one he suffered last season.
“Last year was a tough hit and I was knocked out, but [this] was nothing like that,” Neal said. “Just wasn’t feeling right from a hit. Sometimes it’s tough to tell. Sometimes it doesn’t hit you right away so I felt a little weird, got checked out and needed a couple days and [I’m] feeling better now.”
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