February 15 2017 12:00PM
I think it’s safe to say that if fans of the Edmonton Oilers had been asked to compile a pre-season list of the top-five reasons their team would be safely in a playoff spot 57 games into this season, Mark Letestu’s name wouldn’t be on it. If you’re like me, you could’ve gone 10 spots without pencilling in No. 55.
Yet, here we are on Feb. 15 in the wake of a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes and Letestu has his fingerprints all over a season in which the Oilers have 68 points and look like they’ll have to fall down an elevator shaft not to make the playoffs after 10 straight years out of the post-season mix.
Here, there and everywhere, save for strapping on Cam Talbot’s pads and taking a turn in the goal crease, Letestu has quietly gone about his business and been a difference-maker despite playing well down the marquee on Todd McLellan’s roster. We saw more of the same against the Coyotes Tuesday as Letestu scored his 11 th goal of the season, the game-winner, and added an assist.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have certainly been more prolific. Patty Maroon has been a bigger surprise with 20 goals already. Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera have firmed up the back end. Talbot has made Peter Chiarelli’s bet on him look like pure genius. Then, there’s Letestu, who has done a little bit of everything so far. Mr. Versatile, channelling his best Rem Murray.
GETTING IT DONE
Letestu, 32, has scored 11-14-25 while averaging 14:04 in ice time per game – that’s eighth among Oiler forwards -- while playing in McLellan’s bottom six, penalty killing and taking a turn on the power play. Letestu, a former member of the Bonnyville Pontiacs, has also gone 51.7 per cent in the face-off circles, which is best on the team among full-time centres.
With 11 goals, Letestu is tied for fourth on the team with Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins behind Draisaitl, Maroon and McDavid. With six power-play goals, including one against the Coyotes, Letestu trails only Draisaitl. He leads the Oilers with two shorthanded goals. His game-winner against Arizona was his fifth of the season, tying him with McDavid for top spot in that category.
Letestu’s work against Arizona, a power-play goal, an even-strength assist on a goal by Matt Hendricks and playing more on special teams (7:40) than at even strength (6:54) was pretty much another night at the office, save for an uncharacteristically subpar night in the circles (42 per cent).
Simply put, Letestu is one of those unheralded and sometimes overlooked players every contending team needs because he gives his coach options. A one-time 50-goal scorer in the AJHL, Letestu has nice hands and he can finish, as he’s shown on the power play and in shootouts. He kills penalties and can turn the puck the other way if the opportunity presents itself. He’s dogged and effective on the dot. All of it without much fanfare or drama. Mr. Versatile.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- I’m not the least bit surprised Chiarelli downplayed the possibility he’ll be looking to make a big move at the trade deadline, but anybody who has followed the game for any length of time also knows you have to take what every GM says with a grain of salt. No GM puts his cards on the table in these kinds of pre-deadline availabilities with the media. It just doesn’t happen. Even when scenarios and frameworks for trades are established through conversations, managers tend to wait until closer to the deadline to pull the trigger.
- In that vein, there’s smoke, notably from Jim Matheson and Elliotte Friedman, about Chiarelli having some interest in hulking Tampa Bay pivot Brian Boyle. Matheson’s item is here. With a reasonable contract (a $2-million cap hit) that’s up this season, Boyle is a rental, and certainly an intriguing one for a handful of teams, including the Oilers. The question, as always, is, what’s the ask by Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman?
- Darnell Nurse has been out long enough after ankle surgery that getting him back, as is expected in the next 10 days or so, is almost like making a deadline acquisition. The question with Nurse, given the nature of the injury, is how long it will take him to get back up to speed. Being back on the ice and skating is one thing. Being thrown into the middle of a playoff stretch drive is quite another.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.
RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE