It’s incredible how Mark Letestu, fourth-line centre, has established himself as a top unit power play weapon in the NHL. In terms of points/hour in 5-on-4 situations, he easily ranks among the league’s top 50 scorers, ahead of players like Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Phil Kessel.
That statistic won’t surprise readers, in or out of Edmonton. After all, Letestu’s two power play goals on Wednesday night underscored the fact that he has become a prominent and productive member of one of the league’s best power plays.
What may surprise readers is that the stat above doesn’t refer to this season.
Rather, Letestu accomplished that impressive feat over a four year period, from 2012 to 2016, a period in which he was the best of a small group of players whose skills are uniquely suited to the power play. For the most part, the leaderboard is stocked with familiar names, the stars in Pittsburgh and Washington and Philadelphia whose scoring exploits are routinely lionized.
There are exceptions, though. Letestu is the most accomplished member of a group that includes Lauri Korpikoski, Brandon Pirri, Chris Stewart, Jimmy Hayes and Peter Holland, all role players who have been unexpectedly good at putting up points on the man advantage over their careers.
All are somewhat counterintuitive choices for work on the power play. Last year on this site, when it was pointed out that Letestu’s power play numbers over the last four seasons outshine those of Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, there was a lot of surprise in the comments section and on social media. There was also more than one plea that Letestu (and Korpikoski) be kept away from the power play.
Letestu was so good over that four-year span that this season has actually seen his points/hour dip, even as he’s scored a career-high 11 power play goals and 14 power play points.
Partially, that’s the result of being put in a designated shooter role. Letestu had 12 power play points last season and 14 this year; the difference was that last season he had three assists for every goal and this year it’s nearly four goals for every assist.
But it’s also an indication of just how solid Letestu has been in lesser roles over his career. His career high in points isn’t a result of playing better; it’s the result of opportunity. The lack of right-shooting players and competent faceoff guys in Edmonton opened the door for Letestu, who had been criminally underused in that role in Columbus.
Even so, we might not be talking about Letestu now if not for the struggles of Jordan Eberle in that same role first. Eberle has a good power play points record (he’s also a top-50 points/hour player) and according to numerous reports worked diligently on his one-timer over the summer. Yet cast as the right-shot finisher on the McDavid unit early, he failed to convert his opportunities to goals.
Todd McLellan and his staff, to their credit, went to Letestu next and the move met with success and coincided with a vast improvement in the top power play unit. With Connor McDavid a left-shot playmaker on the right side of the ice, there was a need for a right shot player on the left side of the ice to convert his passes (and those of Leon Draisaitl, another left-shot playmaker on that unit). With all the other obvious non-Eberle candidates left shots, Letestu had an opening and made the most of it.
Yet this shouldn’t be confused as an example of a lesser player being elevated by McDavid and company, because that isn’t what it is. Rather, it should be a reminder of the importance of opportunity in an individual career. Letestu played well for years on the power play, and finally got a shot at a top unit job in Edmonton. It stands to reason that he isn’t the only player in the league with talents that have been overlooked for too long.