By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Through seven seasons, Kris Letang has established himself as an All-Star and the top blue-liner on the Penguins’ roster.

Cam Tucker of NBC Sports’ Pro Hockey Talk believes the skillful defensive-minded coaching of Jacques Martin can make Kris Letang a more complete one.

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Martin told NBC Sports, along with the rest of the media with whom he spoke in Pittsburgh recently, that he is a big believer in Letang’s game. But he thinks Letang needs to bring his game back to its roots: the back end.

Click here to read the full post by Tucker.

Letang, 26, registered five goals and 33 assists this past season, finishing third in Norris Trophy (awarded annually to the NHL’s top defenseman, as voted on by media) balloting. He finished the regular campaign with a plus-16 rating.

He has developed into a prototypical Dan Bylsma offensive defenseman, but red flags that many wondered would keep him from remaining a Penguin–until he signed an eight-year, $58-million extension July 2–include puck management and zone entry, specifically while quarterbacking the power play.

He went scoreless and finished with a minus-5 while the Pens were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. Although he finished the postseason with a near league-best 13 helpers, he also finished with 18 giveaways and just 12 takeaways.

Five of those turnovers came against the B’s–this after finishing the regular season with a turnover margin of minus-22.

Despite his speed, agility, and shot power, Letang scored just once on the man-advantage during the truncated season while playing chiefly the left point on Bylsma’s top PP unit, while two of his three playoff goals came in that fashion.

His lone even-strength goal proved to be the series-winner in a five-game dismissal of the Ottawa Senators in the second round.

Meanwhile, center Evgeni Malkin, who, like Letang, made the end-of-year NHL All-Star teams before signing a big new contract, has been thrust into the spotlight unintentionally this summer.

First of all, a report has surfaced, via a phone interview with Malkin’s father Vladimir, that the Dallas Stars may have illegally offered Malkin a contract before he signed his new deal in an effort to reunite him with longtime friend and former teammate Sergei Gonchar.

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Malkin was slated for free agency next summer before officially rejoining the Pens at a cost of $76 million over eight years, beginning in 2015. NHL reporter Chris Peters of CBS Sports says the Stars have denied the allegation.

Secondly, Geno has dismissed rumors he might one day follow the footsteps of fellow Russian and former division rival Ilya Kovalchuk to the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League).

The Toronto Sun picked up a story from overseas in which the 27-year-old Malkin told the Russian press that Kovalchuk bolting New Jersey for SKA St. Petersburg will be, in his mind, the exception, not the norm, for players from the old Soviet bloc.

“Why would I look for something else? I have everything,” Malkin said.

Click here to read the original story by Russian news agency R-Sport.

Malkin, Letang, and the rest of the 2013-14 Pens report for training camp in less than a month.


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