Pens move Letestu to Blue Jackets for pick
By Josh Yohe
, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Last updated: 11:34 am
The Penguins possess a surplus of centers, and Mark Letestu was off to a poor start this season.
Something had to give, and it did.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero traded Letestu to the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets for a 2012 fourth-round draft pick Tuesday night.
"Joe (Vitale) was doing good things," Letestu said of his fellow center. "Richard (Park), too. I was the odd man out."
With Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Vitale and Park — to say nothing of Sidney Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5 but might be close to returning from a concussion — the Penguins are loaded at center.
Given Letestu's struggles — his play had dropped significantly from his rookie season, as he hadn't scored a goal in 11 games — it seemed only natural to move him.
The Penguins have given no indication that this move signifies an opening of a roster spot for Crosby.
"This was more about Vitale emerging and Park fitting in so well with our team," Shero said. "Plus, we really like Dustin Jeffrey. It had nothing to do with Sid. We have no roster issues right now."
Letestu said leaving will be difficult.
"I'll miss playing with guys like (Crosby and Malkin)," Letestu said. "They're two of the best players in the world. It was like a bonus getting to watch them play every day. But now, I won't have to be behind those stars anymore, so I might get more of a chance to play."
Rumors had been circulating for days that Letestu could be traded.
"It wasn't rocket science," said Letestu's agent, Al Roy. "They were going to move someone."
Shero said he received calls from numerous teams about Letestu yesterday, and he wanted to act quickly on a deal.
"It wasn't like I was shopping him," Shero said. "But when we do finally get healthy, we would have had a roster issue."
It was no secret that coach Dan Bylsma appreciated Letestu, who was never drafted and worked his way through many seasons in the minors.
"I give Dan credit," Letestu said. "He gave me my start as much as I did. It's tough to leave. I'm very thankful to him."
Letestu had never been traded in a professional career that saw him play portions of five seasons with Penguins minor league affiliates Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) and Wheeling (ECHL).
"I remember the first time I saw him play at Wilkes-Barre," Shero said. "I didn't think he was ever going to play (in the NHL). But he worked his way into a good AHL player and then into a good NHL player. He's a good story. I think this is a great opportunity for him."
A surprise last season, Letestu filled in admirably for Crosby, Malkin and Staal. A sound defensive center, Letestu scored 14 goals in 64 games.
The Penguins (9-3-3, 21 points) have the NHL's best record, while Columbus (2-11-1) has the league's worst mark. But Letestu appreciates the opportunity he may received in Columbus.
"It's a nervous situation to go somewhere new," he said. "But one thing I've learned is that hockey players are an accepting bunch. I'm excited about this."
Placed on assignment
Jeffrey and Steve MacIntyre were assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by the Penguins on Tuesday night.
Each player was placed with the AHL affiliate on a conditioning assignment and will remain on the active roster and collect an NHL salary through the duration.
Jeffrey has appeared in six games. He has yet to record a point and averaged less than 10 minutes of ice time. He spent the first eight games on injured reserve while recovering from surgery last season to repair torn knee ligaments.
MacIntyre has appeared in just four games. He was signed in the offseason to replace Eric Godard as the club's primary enforcer.