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Hextall: Letang’s Stroke ‘Much Less Severe’ Than Previous One



Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang, Tristan Jarry

CRANBERRY — It is not, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall said, that he does not recognize the gravity of what Kris Letang is going through.

He clearly is aware that any stroke, even a relatively mild one like the kind that Letang suffered Monday, is serious.

Nonetheless, Hextall said Wednesday that Letang’s stroke is “much less severe” than one Letang suffered in 2014, when he was sidelined for several months. That issue was attributed to a small hole in his heart.

The anecdotal evidence Hextall offered seemed to substantiate that.

He said that Letang was unaware that he had had another stroke, that he thought he simply was suffering from a persistent migraine.

Letang contacted Chris Stewart of the team’s medical staff and, according to Hextall, told him that “something’s going on that didn’t feel right,” triggering a series of events that ended with him being taken to a hospital and subsequently diagnosed.

Letang attended the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina Tuesday night and spoke with his teammates after the game in an effort to reassure them that he would be okay.

“First and foremost, Kris is doing well, considering what happened,” Hextall said. “I chatted with him for a while. Actually, the whole second period.”

He added that, “I’ve got to be honest, I’m shocked at how well he seems to be doing, and taking it. He understands. He’s been through it before.”

Mike Sullivan said that, “I think it was important for Kris to be there, because his teammates got to see him in good spirits, and see that he’s doing well.”

Hextall said that Letang is undergoing further testing, but that “thus far, everything is okay,” an assessment echoed by Sullivan, who volunteered a couple of times that ” ‘Stroke’ is a scary word.’ ”

“For all intents and purposes, at this point, everything we’ve gotten back, from a testing standpoint, has been very encouraging,” Sullivan said. “So we’re grateful for that.”

Despite the upbeat evaluation of Letang’s condition — Sullivan said Letang actually wanted to skate today — he is listed as being out indefinitely and there is no timetable for him to rejoin the lineup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are down to six healthy defensemen on their major-league roster, so it will not be surprising if they call one up from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre. There was no immediate word on whether they plan to put Letang on the Long-Term Injured list, which would require him to miss at least 10 games and 24 days.

“We truly don’t know a timeline right now,” Hextall said. “We have a good team. We have a deep team. We like our defense. We have a couple of guys in the minors. We feel good about where we’re at as a team.”

Chad Ruhwedel stepped into the lineup when Letang couldn’t play Tuesday, but compensating for the team-high 23 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time Letang averages per game won’t be easy.

“He’s not easy to replace,” Sullivan said. “He’s an elite player and we rely on him in so many situations. … But it isn’t anything we haven’t been faced with in the past. The reality is, we have what we have. We have to figure it out.

“I don’t think we’ll replace him with any one guy. I think it will be by committee, as it usually is when you lose a player of that stature.”

Word of Letang’s stroke did not go public until after his teammates had spoken with reporters Wednesday, but Hextall and Sullivan made the concern they have for him clear.

Sullivan noted that, “he’s played with some of these guys for a long time,” and that “he means a lot to the team, means a lot to the players.”

“It’s hard to put into words, quite frankly,” Hextall said. “(Letang) has been here for what, 17 years, 18 years? … I’ve been here for less than two years, and I know how much I realize already how much he means to this organization and this city, and how much he means to his teammates.

“He’s a warrior. … He’s a terrific human being. And he’s one tough SOB.”