Monday, September 10, 2012

What to Expect From: Mark Letestu

In this series, we're going to go through each player, examine what they have been able to produce in the past and what it would be reasonable to expect from them in the coming season, mostly using logic. The goal is to have a statistical expectation for the team as a whole, to see how well they might fare in 2012-13. This is an alternative to just throwing your hands up in the air, crying, drinking excessively (although this activity doesn't exclude drinking) and playing russian roulette alone in my basement all summer.

We're now getting to the end of the line as far as forwards are considered, and we've reached the point where it's time to mention Mark Letestu.

"when I prayed that God would make me an NHL player, I never dreamt of this."
Letestu is actually an interesting guy, for a few reasons. First, he was an undrafted free agent and a relatively rare entity, the Western Canadian who plays NCAA hockey. He was always a "good" forward and made significant contributions at every level he reached. The pens signed him in 2007 after one year at Western Michigan, where he was a standout player, scoring plenty and even leading the NCAA in short-handed goals with 5 over 37 games. He came up slowly through the pens' system and eventually was called upon for emergency duty when both Crosby and Malkin were out with injuries back in 2010-2011, going through spurts as the default first line center. Letestu did admirably in these circumstances and showed that he possessed enough talent to be an NHL forward, although probably not enough to be a top-6 forward. He played in nearly all situations and never seemed to be a liability.

More after the jump...

In 2011-12, Letestu showed up for camp faced with the prospect of being buried on the now-assumed-to-be-healthy depth chart at center. In his 11 games, with an average of 12:50 TOI, he was able to achieve... wait for it... one assist.

Letestu would have been waived, but the pens wanted something back, and Howson ended up being their huckleberry. He gave up a fourth round pick, which the Pens used to select OHL forward Matia Marcantuoni. Keep that name stored in your memory banks somewhere, because with the CBJ's luck, he will end up being the next Teemu Sellane... But one in the hand is worth two in the bush in some peoples' minds and Letestu offers us depth at the forward position. At worst, he projects as a great AHL player to bolster our moribund farm team.

After getting here, Letestu played a decent two way game and moved around the lineup mostly outside the top line. The thing I noticed most about him was his strange last name (where is the name Letestu originally from? someplace more obscure than transylvania?). Seriously, that's what I noticed most. Because honestly, I didn't notice him on the ice very often at all. Which is good, because last year I was mostly throwing empty bottles of smirnoff at CBJ players that I noticed.

Anyway, Letestu did ok. Not great, not terrible. OK. He did well on face-offs, came near his career highs in points and goals over his short career and didn't seem to stick out as being incompetent. Letestu was on the PP, netting 4G and 4A. His TOI went up to an average of 16:15. And they only had to pay him a pro-rated 650G per season in order to get this kind of play out of him. The dispatch report card gave him a C and although it seems somewhat fitting, I'd bump it up a bit to a B or a B- just because of the fact that he was probably a bit underpaid by NHL standards and definitely outperforming his expectations.

Here are his truncated NHL stats from Hockeydb:

Regular SeasonPlayoffs

2010-11Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL6414132713470110
2011-12Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL110112-6----------
2011-12Columbus Blue JacketsNHL511113246-3----------
NHL Totals13626275323110220

So you can see that Letestu's best season back in 2010-11, although it was surprisingly good, wasn't a barn-burner by any stretch of the imagination. Last season was similar once he reached Columbus, and if we take his pens' stats away from last season then we end up with 0.47 PPG. This is a respectable number for a "bottom-6" guy.

The bonus features with Letestu are that he's versatile (able to play the wing when the situation calls for it) and was never pointed to as part of the problem last year, on or off the ice. He is big enough to not be small at 5'11" and although he isn't a pugilist by any means, he has actually dropped his mittens before, with PK Subban. He's good on face-offs. He has a quick, accurate shot at his disposal and he shoots often. His playmaking abilities are mediocre at best and his skating is above average. The big question I personally have is how good his defensive game is? It's not something I'm really personally attuned to, but if Letestu is going to carve out a niche for himself in the NHL, he will have to make solid defense a staple of his game.

If he can show up to camp looking more like a capable shut down center, then MacKenzie will have to beat him out for the fourth line spot. As much as I love DMac, he won't be able to put up the kind of points that Letestu can and something will have to give if they're both destined for this position. It doesn't seem like either guy can be sent down without waivers, so it may be necessary to shuffle them in and out of the press box, or put Boll in purgatory and shift Letestu to fourth line winger if this is in fact the plan.

If on the other hand, Letestu shifts to the wing and plays on the third line, he can offer some capable hands on a line that just might get a lot of offensive opportunities. I wouldn't see this as a jump backward for him, as the classic top-6 "scoring", 3rd line "checking", 4th line "energy" configuration shouldn't apply to this iteration of the CBJ. They have 9 forwards who can put the puck in the net and this will create a lot of different situations for these guys. For Letestu in particular, I think it will either be beneficial or neutral with regard to his offensive stats.

Regarding his PP contributions, I think we've added a lot of guys who are clearly head and shoulders above Letestu offensively and we shouldn't expect him to get PP time unless there are quite a few injuries above him on the depth chart.

Seeing all these moving pieces, it's difficult to predict a great leap forward for Letestu. I think the most likely scenario is the latter, where he gets caught on some hybrid scoring/checking third line as a winger and doesn't get much PP time. Overall, his stats shouldn't shift much. Given his interesting short handed goal stats in NCAA, one has to wonder if he could plug a hole on the PK for the team as well.

He's only due one more year as a one way player at 650K, so if the NHL ends up not being in the cards, he could end up an AHL hero. I'd kind of like this role even more for Letestu, although he probably would beg to differ.

Prediction for Mark Letestu in 2012-13: 16G, 16A for 32 points over 65-75 games.

"Columbus' Mark Letestu checks John Scott while battling for a loose puck during the first period." -actual caption from the chicago tribune. Look at that picture again. Letestu is ingesting 1200 calories of elbow pad. He is not checking anybody. 


  1. He could probably play on most NHL teams. He's not going to hurt you. Good on draws, good shot, good skater,good hockey sense & good in the room.
    Solid third liner. CBJ should be happy to have him especially @ 650K/year.

    1. Agreed. Although it's tough to define a specific role for him to play, it's always good to keep versatile guys around.