AT RANDOM: MR. VERSATILE


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 11th 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

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

SoapBox

  • 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  

  • Randaman

    With what Sakic is asking for Duchene and what Yzerman will obviously ask for Boyle (not going anywhere in my opinion), I think they have both taken too many shots to the head.

    Eugene Melnyk agrees

  • Randaman

    I would also like to send props to our GM who has taken it on the chin from a lot of fans for the Hall trade mainly.

    He has done a great job identifying what was needed here.

    Kudos

  • Spydyr

    Getting Nurse back will be like acquiring another defencman at the deadline.

    The Washington Capitals acquired veteran defenceman Tom Gilbert from the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday in exchange for a conditional fifth-round draft pick in 2017.

  • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

    What about the option of trying letestu on connor’s RW?
    (And also taking important face offs?)

    And Calling lander up for 4th line centre ?

    Am I crazy or could this work?

    Draisatl has been the only thing that worked there… why not give it a try for atkeast a game ?

    What would be wrong with this?

  • Big Jacks Meat

    55 is Mr Steady , rarely makes glaring errors. Works his A$$ off most nights , is like a younger slightly Matt Hendricks , not as tough but game.
    Is he like Hendricks when he first arrived.

    Wish we had Hendo 7-8 years ago , will miss him.

  • Twitch

    If boyle is too much I saw an interesting side from an Ottawa fan saying Lazar and Hammond for Pouliot, Reinhart and a 3rd(St Louis’s 3rd). I like it myself, gives all players involved a second chance like Poo and Lazer and gets Hammond out of the 3rd goalie slot into a solid back-up role and L-B goes down to the minors to refine his game some more.

      • Twitch

        I do but aside from last week against St Louis he hasn’t looked as terrible on the eye test, more like he let’s his emotion get the best of him and Schwartz has had success with fiery goalies like Jarry and Dea(who went downhill after Schwartz went to the big club full-time last year) and I think Hammond is exactly the goalie he could help along

        • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

          I feel like Hammond is a lost cause.

          That one run he had in 2015 will always be the highlight of his career and now he will settle into being a career AHL’er

          • Twitch

            I see he’s struggled this year but he’s only 29 and his positioning is better than Jonas’ even if his results aren’t as good. If his confidence goes back up I could see him as a career back-up rather than a career AHL-er. Obviously 2015 is a blip but his 7-11-4 and 2.65 average last year is more where I personally see him settling and that this year is an aberration as well

    • Rock11

      Wow that is a lot to give up for a recently released career backup/AHL goalie and a tweener forward who can’t get out of the pressbox for a mediocre Ottawa team.

      I’d be willing to move Pouliot for Lazar straight up. Ottawa gets the better, this year not withstanding, player but the more expensive one. Oilers get a reclamation project that slots somewhere on the Yakcity scale of draft busts. Certainly not willing to give up what should be a cheap bottom pair D for the next few years and a 3rd as well just for that Oil King smell.

      • Twitch

        To be fair on your last comment ‘that Oil King smell’ goes back the other way too with Reinhart in the trade. Yes Pouliot for Lazar was my original comment in the thread I mentioned and the Ottawa fan said add the other players as Ottawa wouldn’t give up a young player like Lazar for an overpriced Pouliot. I don’t agree with your evaluation of Reinhart, I don’t think he’ll ever be a bottom pair mainstay and at best he’ll be an injury recall or 6/7 d-man. He is too slow to play and he isn’t physical enough for his size and without a scoring or high end puck moving attribute he needs to play bigger to stick with the big club. I’d love to be wrong but when Chiarelli listened to MacT speak sweet nothings in his ear about Reinhart he made the worst trade he’ll probably ever make as Oilers GM.

  • Will

    With everything coming down the pipe for the Oilers – managing the cap, possibly trading one of Nuge or Eberle or both, finding a puck moving right side D, finding some value contracts in the forward core – eventually replacing Letestu is in my opinion going to be the most difficult. It would be difficult to find a better fourth line centre for the money he’s being paid. The utility and defensive acumen he brings is really going to be tough to find.

    • Keepyourstickontheice

      He’s channelling his inner Bobby Holik.

      “When Bobby Holik is your 3rd line centre, you’re going to the cup final. When Bobby Holik is your first line centre, you ain’t going nowhere.”- Bobby Holik

      Man it’s nice to have the depth to let players play with breathing room instead of buried over their heads.

  • btrain

    Letestu has had a phenomenal season because the Oilers have enough depth that they can play him to his strengths. Even Letestu himself has noted that he is more effective with less ice time. Similarly I thought Drake Caggiula looked fantastic on the wing last night, his natural position. It allows him a little less accountability and we were able to see more of that grit he has a reputation for.

  • Oiler Al

    Letestu, was my”goat” last year! Look at him now.
    Pouliot is my goat this year. He is decent on the PK, and is on the PP because of the limitations the coach has for FO guys, and RH shots.
    He is a very soft player and
    not much of a puck hound.But at least he’s not making
    $7 million a year like #27.

  • Kaplan

    After Chiarelli softened the market for Taylor Hall last year by saying, more than once, that any and all his players were candidates for trades during another sub-par season, I’m glad he’s gone the other way with his Stanley Cup comments.

    I don’t think any other GM out there buys it, but at least he’s sending the right messages at this point to his colleagues.

    • Spydyr

      After watching Hall turtle when challenged by Zack after a cheap shot and now Ference is talking about how 2013-15 Oilers wouldn’t go to war for each another it is becoming more and more obvious that the Oilers may have not received the most skilled player just the better hockey player in that deal.

      • Kaplan

        I don’t disagree with you re: Hall and Larsson, and while I didn’t love the trade, I’ve grown to see Chiarelli made the right move. I just wonder if he could’ve gotten a bit more had he not talked about offloading half the team last season before the trade deadline.

        Not sure how I feel about Ference speaking out at this point. What’s to be gained by reminding everyone that Eakins wasn’t great and that the team was flawed? Yeah, we know. We lived through it with you, and it was clear they wouldn’t go to war for each other.

  • tileguy

    Not a single comment on Andrew Ference telling it like it was, ie, that the Oilers never stood up for each other in the 2012-15 seasons. Let me be the first,
    **cough hall cough cough**

    EDIT, I am about 10 minutes late with my comment.

    • eeagain

      Yes the Ference comments are very interesting. How much of the new found “professionalism” as Ference calls it comes from the likes of Lucic is certainly a question.

      I recall how the likes of Grtezky and Messier etc. often made a point of saying how important Lee Fogolin was to the team’s development. Foglin was a middling dman who the Oil got in the 1979 expansion draft. A veteran who helped young stars learn how to be professionals. Fast forward 30 years and I see a parallel between say a guy like Horcoff and maybe even Ference. Veteran middling (at best) players who should have been mentors to the young guns. Somehow it didn’t work.

  • Rama Lama

    Just imagine what the Oilers would look like with Eberle shooting one-timers like M.L.

    I think it’s safe to say both the Nuge and Eberle could stand to take a few lessons on shooting from this guy. In addition he could also teach them positioning as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

    Based on what I have seen ( there should be metric on this) Eberle passes up at least two to three scoring chances per game due to his inability to shoot one timers. Exactly how many non-goals this would be……..I would say at least 20 to 30 goals a year.

    I know many will disagree with this and those I would say try and isolate Eberle in a game and count how many times a game he does not shoot……you might be surprised.

    • btrain

      Don’t entirely disagree. However, If you do as you say and isolate an individual player for the purpose of confirming a bias (good or bad) most often you will be successful in your quest. The real challenge would be trying to keep an objective position, and consider how common this is for many other players to pass up similar opportunities. If Eberle falls far off of the average, then you have yourself a case. However, that would require watching several players just as closely to come up with a reasonable comparison group.

      One player you may find surpasses Eberle in passing up opportunities to shoot, is McDavid. Fortunately McDavid is amazing and even if he passes up half his chances, he is still left with more than Eberle would have on most nights (1st line PP tends to help in this category). Anyway, the point is that even the best players could be scrutinized if you wanted to focus on their flaws. Further, the issue of pass, shoot, or otherwise is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, there is a lot of subjectivity at play in deciding if a guy should have shot or did something else. Because you can’t really remove that subjective aspect, not sure this would make for a great metric. Long winded, but I do agree it would be great if Eberle could figure out the one-timer but I would be happy at this point if he could just rediscover his former success even if it involves a little dusting.

      • Rama Lama

        You bring up good points………….but remember Eberle is not really a playmaker and has always been known as a shooter/goal scorer.

        McDavid can multi-task and when not shooting he can become a playmaker ………Eberle not so much.

        To use an example from the past………I never yelled Jarri Kerri to shoot. Yes my observations are antdotetal but it’s more how I feel about a hot scorer gone cold.

        Eberle just needs another facet to his game, that’s all.

        • btrain

          Again, can’t disagree with you on many levels!

          I do feel that Eberle is known as a goal scorer because he has historically been very good in that department. However, I wouldn’t say he is not a playmaker as he has far more career assists than he does goals. He set up McDavid for a few glorious chances last night. The argument that he can’t drive a line seems valid though.

          If he could add that one timing element, it be fantastic!

  • The Whispererer

    It’s obvious that Lander will never be seen (by management) as more than a fill-in on the Oilers, but he does have some NHL-level skills. If Chiareli is just planning on tinkering at the deadline, a Lander for Lazar trade makes sense for both teams. Does anyone know if Lazar is exempt for the expansion draft ?

    • Spydyr

      Lazar will be available in the expansion draft. Why would any team trade for Lander when he is on waivers every third week? Especially giving up a young player with a possible future for him.

      • The Whispererer

        While Lander has been shuttled back and forth between Edmonton and Bakersfield, he has not had to clear waivers due to some obscure rule Chia has been able to take advantage of.

        Lazar has 1 assist in 29 games this year. Lander has 4 points in 22 games and he wins face-offs which is a valuable attribute in the playoffs. Ottawa is said to be willing to move Lazar for a 2nd round pick…why not for Lander?

        • Spydyr

          Here is the rule you mentioned:

          A player does not need to pass through waivers if the player has not been on the NHL active roster for a cumulative 30 days since last clearing waivers, and has not played in 10 or more NHL games. CBA Reference 13.2(b)

          Lander will have to clear waivers again shortly.Why would someone give up a second round pick when you can get the asset for free? Stop channelling your inner Mac-T.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    ” No GM puts his cards on the table in these kinds of pre-deadline availabilities with the media. It just doesn’t happen. ”

    I realize that the time frame is different (pre-deadline vs pre-season) but this comment alone shows just how wrong MacTavish was as a GM of a rebuilding team.

    I think the Oilers are in a better position for sustainable growth with PC, I’m excited for the first time in a decade as a fan

  • Spydyr

    So giving up a twenty-two year old player a recent first round pick for a one year rental of an under performing overpaid player is “not a bad deal”.

    That is the Mac-T school of management.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    After watching last nights game I couldn’t help but see how Letestu has passed Nuge on the depth chart. Better face off guy , penalty killer and powerplay shot. After seeing Letestu play most of the 5 on 3 it was clear who TMac values more.

    • btrain

      Letestu has played his role extremely well but your evidence is flawed. Letestu is deservedly on the fist unit PP that is why he is out there on the 5 on 3. RNH has not been part of the top unit all season, so not like Letestu took his spot (he took Eberle’s). I think this is something that has been overlooked by many for RNHs lack of production. Not saying he should not still be expected to do more 5vs5 but I can’t help but wonder how much not being on the first unit has hurt this player. Not only does it drastically reduce the optimal opportunities to score for him, but it reduces the feel goods and confidence boosts that come along with scoring in gerneral. In one of his 56 pt seasons he scored 20 of his 56 points on the PP. Without having that top PP time to generate offense and confidence, it helps at least to some degree explain his struggles. It should also reduce the expectation that RNH meet or exceed his career bests while in his current role on the team. He needs to be better but how much better can we realistically expect?

    • VC Glaswegian

      Another stout article there brownman, and yes mike peca aka pest, sprinkle in a bit of linesman, with a “he reminds me of bobby Clarke” , and I cannot wait! To see this team in the play-offs!!!! Eh!!!