It’s fascinating that Kris Letang was born with a gap within the wall of his coronary heart.

After all, nobody’s coronary heart is larger nor highly effective than his. Letang, lower than 48 hours after studying that he had sustained the second stroke of his 35-year-old life, was already asking Penguins normal supervisor Ron Hextall and coach Mike Sullivan if he might skate on Wednesday on the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

The reply was no. For now, anyway.

“He’s one tough SOB,” Hextall mentioned.

Can’t argue with that.

Letang, in his seventeenth season, has participated in 962 NHL video games. Only Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have performed in additional video games for the Penguins.

However, Letang’s medical illnesses have at all times been a part of his story, and Wednesday they produced one other upsetting piece of stories for an individual who was in any other case blessed with the bodily jackpot.

In his profession, Letang has now endured two strokes, the primary of which got here in 2014. He additionally underwent career-threatening neck surgical procedure in 2017 and handled concussions in 2011 and in 2014, the latter a foul one courtesy of a harmful Shane Doan hit.

Early in Letang’s profession, he missed a number of video games due to migraine complications.

Letang has at all times been notably decided to proceed his NHL profession throughout the quite a few well being illnesses. In July, he signed a six-year contract that ought to hold him taking part in for the Penguins till he’s 40.

The look on Hextall and Sullivan’s faces, nonetheless, served as a grim reminder of how scary the scenario is.

The Penguins wrote of their information release that the stroke isn’t anticipated to threaten Letang’s profession, and, make no mistake, these phrases wouldn’t have been chosen with out important medical session.

And but, it’s nonetheless a regarding day for the Penguins and for the one who has been their No. 1 defenseman for greater than a decade.

“Stroke is a scary word,” Sullivan mentioned.

The Penguins practiced on the Hunt Armory rink in Shadyside on Monday. Letang was within the locker room following observe and appeared in moderately good spirits.

Later within the day, Letang referred to as Penguins head athletic coach Chris Stewart.

Letang advised Stewart that he was having a big migraine. After consulting with staff Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, Stewart advised Letang it was finest to have checks completed instantly at an area hospital.

On Monday evening, Letang discovered that he had suffered one other stroke.

“For all intents and purposes, everything we’ve gotten back from a testing standpoint has been encouraging,” Sullivan mentioned. “We are grateful for that.”

Both Hextall and Sullivan emphasised that the preliminary medical findings point out that this stroke is significantly much less extreme than the one in 2014. Letang missed greater than two months due to his first stroke.

“We are all concerned for him,” Sullivan mentioned. “It’s a scary word. We are hopeful that Kris is going to be OK and that he can continue to play and to help us win. The biggest challenge for me today was to keep him off the ice. He wanted to skate today.”

The temper across the Penguins on Wednesday was predictably somber. Players had been knowledgeable of Letang’s scenario on Tuesday evening, following the Penguins’ time beyond regulation loss to Carolina. Letang himself stood beside Sullivan and shared the information. It was necessary for Letang that his teammates noticed him in good type, trying wholesome and desperate to get again on the ice quickly.

They aren’t simply athletes, although. They’re human. And it was very evident on Tuesday that the Penguins are involved about their buddy. Hextall was extra stoic than common. Sullivan has a chilly, however the crack in his voice whereas talking of Letang felt extra like emotion than being below the climate.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Sullivan mentioned. “It puts things into perspective for all of us. I’ve had the privilege to coach him for seven years now. I’ve developed a good relationship with him. I know how I feel about him. Some of these guys have played with him for 15 years (Crosby and Malkin). They’re close friends. They care about each other as people. We love the game. We compete hard. We live and die with winning and losing every night. But at the end of the day, we care about people. And he’s a guy that means a lot to our team.”

The Penguins’ season will go on with out Letang within the lineup once they host the Golden Knights on Thursday.

How lengthy Letang stays out of the lineup is anybody’s guess. The Penguins aren’t placing a timetable on Letang’s return, although they’re universally expressing a powerful perception that Letang’s profession isn’t over.

Sullivan suspects the Penguins will likely be taking part in tougher than ever for Letang transferring ahead.

“I’m sure they will,” Sullivan mentioned. “He means a lot to the team, a lot to the players. You could see the concern on their faces when I informed them after the game. I think it was great that Tanger was present and that they could see him, and see that he was doing well. They will rally around Kris first and foremost. They’ll rally around him on the ice as well.”

Letang has enthusiastically change into extra of a staff chief lately. While he was at all times an incredible expertise, Letang entered the league at a time when the Penguins had veteran presences equivalent to Sergei Gonchar and Bill Guerin on their roster. Only within the back-to-back Stanley Cup years of 2016 and 2017 did Letang start to claim his voice within the locker room amongst his teammates.

That presence has change into amplified lately. Letang has taken fellow Quebec native Pierre-Olivier Joseph below his wing in latest seasons. Other teammates have famous {that a} extra considerate, extra affected person Letang has been on show previously couple of years.

As his household has grown — Letang and his spouse, Catherine, have two youngsters — he has appeared extra at peace away from the rink. Anyone who is aware of Letang, although, will inform you that he doesn’t plan on spending all of his time away from the rink.

So lengthy because it’s medically cheap — and all early indications are that will probably be — Letang will likely be again in some unspecified time in the future this season.

It could be straightforward for him to stroll away. He’s in possession of generational cash and a household he adores. He’s acquired three Stanley Cup rings and may effectively see his bust within the Hockey Hall of Fame sometime.

The Penguins will assist no matter selections he makes relating to his well being.

“He is a warrior on the ice,” Hextall mentioned. “But first and foremost, he is a son, father, husband and friend. His health is our number one priority.”

Letang is the last word rink rat, nonetheless. No one loves the sport greater than him. As lengthy as there’s a manner, anticipate him again sooner reasonably than later.

“I am optimistic I will be back on the ice soon,” Letang mentioned.

(Photo: Kyle Ross / USA Today)

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