by Jeff Elston | AHL On The Beat
It’s been an atypical season for Mark Letestu in 2018-19, returning to a league in which he hasn’t competed for almost a decade. But it is a challenge that Letestu has accepted.
Through 18 appearances for the Cleveland Monsters this year, Letestu, a veteran of nearly 600 career NHL games, has posted eight goals and 13 points and has provided the veteran stability that the team has needed.
Letestu is coming off a campaign in which the Elk Point, Alberta, native appeared in 80 games between the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets, posting 23 points. In the off-season, Letestu returned to the Blue Jackets organization following a training-camp tryout stint with the Florida Panthers, signing a one-year, two-way deal with Columbus before joining Cleveland prior to the start of the regular season.
Letestu says his return to the AHL has felt slightly different than his previous stint in the league, way back in the 2009-10 season.
“The age in the room more than anything and relating to your teammates is what is a little different,” explained Letestu. “It’s been nine years since I have been here [in the AHL], but I am still enjoying it.”
Despite those differences, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound veteran center’s competitive nature and willingness to lead hasn’t changed.
“I like playing and competing and that’s why I am here,” added Letestu. “With that being said, when you’re the elder statesman in the room, any chance you have to lend knowledge or experience to guys and help them along in their careers… I get excited about that now.”
Monsters head coach John Madden has taken quick notice as to how important Letestu has been to his team not just in the locker room, but on the ice as well.
“[He brings] experience,” explained Madden. “He’s so crafty, so smart. He just does so many good things on the ice that most people might not notice. He’s not going to fly round the ice like a [rookie forward Eric] Robinson, [center Ryan] MacInnis, or [top Cleveland scorer Zac] Dalpe, but he makes the subtle plays that are very hard to teach. Every time we have needed him, he has stepped up.”
Cleveland captain Nathan Gerbe knows how fortunate he and the rest of his teammates are in having an experienced NHL player like Letestu roaming the locker room.
“His resume speaks for itself,” said Gerbe. “He’s been a leader on all of the different teams he’s played for, so he is a guy we can all learn from and seek help [from] when younger players need it. He’s just someone who does the daily things the right way.”
Letestu’s intangible leadership contributions have been evident so far this season, and even though he’s been happy with the way the team has produced offensively to this point in the 2018-19 campaign, he knows that if the Monsters want to sustain their success on the ice, the team will have to improve defensively going forward.
“We’re not defending well enough right now,” outlined Letestu. “I think if you look up and down our roster you will see that we are going to score a lot of goals. I think our offense is going to carry us a lot of the time, but right now we’re just not defending well enough in games to let the offense take over. As a group we have to be better if we want to win more hockey games.”
Letestu and the rest of his Monsters teammates will get their chance to do just that this week when the team hits the road for a trio of games against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.