Kris Letang returns to Penguins lineup less than three months after stroke

Rory Boylen
Kris Letang (Getty Images)

The last time Kris Letang played in an NHL game was Jan. 27. He began missing time due to a “mystery illness” which later was revealed to be a stroke. He discussed the scary details about his episode about a month later and then a few weeks after that, on March 17, Letang returned to Penguins practice and has been in full-contact mode.

Today, less than three months after his stroke, the Penguins announced Letang will return to their lineup against the Detroit Red Wings.

The first question a lot of people have about a situation as serious and concerning as this is why not just play it safe and shut him down for the rest of this season? Why not start again in September at training camp and return to action in October? What’s the rush?

Penguins GM Ray Shero discussed that today with the media:

“The easiest question for anybody and for me is, well, why don’t we just wait and try in October or whatever. We have assurance and he has assurances that…hockey did not cause the stroke. Return to play will not cause the stroke. Playing tonight versus waiting ‘til October or waiting 10 years is not going to change that. Resting and playing Xbox is not going to make you better. I’m not implying that he plays Xbox.”

Wait a minute, what’s wrong with playing some Xbox?

It’s a great triumph for Letang and tremendous news for the team, which very much needs his offensive presence on the blueline heading into the playoffs. But it will also be a nervous night for the GM, just like it is any time a player returns from injury.

This one, of course, is a little different than most.

“I’m excited for him because I think the main thing is health-wise he feels good and everything is trending in the right direction for him short-term and long-term,” Shero said. “But I had the conversation yesterday and I think it’s a good question, how will I feel? I’ll be a little nervous. But I told him, and he kind of smiled at me, and I said, you gotta understand when you came back from concussion from getting hit in Montreal, that first game I was nervous. When Sidney Crosby came back, I was a little nervous. A guy comes back from a shoulder, I’m a little nervous. Little different now and he just smiled and said ‘Ya, you and Catherine are gong to be nervous.’ But he had a big smile on his face and I think that’s just human nature.”

Letang has 18 points in 34 games this season and the Penguins sit with the second-best record in the East with three games left on the schedule.

The ovation should be thunderous.

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