On the backs of star trio Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Cam Talbot, the Edmonton Oilers have found life in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But as is always the case when the regular season schedule gives way to the post-season, the club has seen a bevy of second-tier contributors step up and make their names – none more so than Mark Letestu.
When talking about the performance of Edmonton’s depth players, much of the discussion has focused on Zack Kassian and Adam Larsson. Kassian, on top of his intimidating physical presence, has scored a few clutch goals, while Larsson opened the second round with the first two-goal game of his career.
Meanwhile there’s Letestu, toiling away in the background where he’s quietly been one of Edmonton’s most versatile threats all year long.
While he may not have garnered as many headlines as his club’s more decorated stars in the regular season, Letestu posted a career year in 2016-17 that saw him emerge as a vital, if underreported, piece of the Oilers’ offence. His greatest impact came via Edmonton’s special teams, as Letestu tallied the second-most power play goals on the team (11) while also leading the club’s forward corps in shorthanded ice-time (2:08 per game).
The former Pittsburgh Penguin and Columbus Blue Jacket also paced all Oilers centremen in the faceoff circle, as his 50.4 per cent success rate ranked first among the four pivots who took the bulk of the club’s draws. That proficiency is more significant than it might seem, as the Oilers finished as the worst faceoff team in the league, with Letestu the lone bright spot in the circle.
There’s no question Letestu’s finest moments came when the stakes were highest, as the minutes wore thin and the game was on the line. The Alberta native potted six game-winners for Edmonton this season, matched on the roster only by McDavid. League-wide, that total put Letestu on the same level with all-star talents such as Evgeni Malkin and Brent Burns.
Not bad for an undrafted veteran earning just $1.8 million this season and next.
The playoffs haven’t slowed his impact either. Through nine post-season appearances, Letestu sits tied for the team lead with three goals. He’s posted five points, behind the leading duo of Draisaitl (eight points) and McDavid (six points).
Letestu is still carrying the mail in regards to special teams play as well, leading the club in power play points (four) while seeing the second-most shorthanded ice-time per game (2:42) among Oilers forwards.
It takes more than one player to claim a Stanley Cup, and a team needs a number of key components for a successful run. Among them, a strong third-line pivot to test the opponent’s depth, a group of special-teams role players to maintain composure when the complexion of the game changes, and a few guys who raise their level when the stakes are highest.
Under the radar, Letestu has proven he can dabble in all these roles.
There may be a number of players considered more crucial to Edmonton’s post-season efforts, but there are few who have had an impact in as many different areas for the surging club.
Though Letestu is far from the straw that stirs the drink for the Oilers, their success is tied to the play of the low-key, depth contributor.