Penguins' Letang cleared to play after neck surgery

Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang has been cleared for contact before training camp opens Friday.

All-star defenceman hasn't played since February

Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang, with the Stanley Cup during a hospital visit this summer, has been cleared to play after having neck surgery in April that forced him to miss the playoffs. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang has been cleared for contact before training camp opens Friday.

Letang, who underwent season-ending neck surgery on April 13 to repair a herniated disc, said he felt healthy Tuesday but continues to take his recovery one day at a time. He hopes to play when the defending Stanley Cup champions open their regular season against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 4.

"Health is pretty good," Letang said. "I've been working out all summer. I was restrained at the beginning, but I got the clearance to start running and skating around July 5. Pretty full summer. ... We'll just start and go day by day. I got cleared to have contact and skate with the team. We'll see how it goes the first few days and we'll increase the workload."

Letang had five goals and 29 assists in 41 games while battling various injuries last season. Throughout that season, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he would like Letang to adjust his style and avoid unnecessary hits.

If it's up to Letang, nothing will change. He plans to average over 25 minutes per game again in 2017-18.

Wants to play 25 minutes a game

"(Playing at least 25 minutes is) what I want to do," Letang said. "That's part of my game, the way I play. So, obviously, it's the goal. I have no expectation. I'm just going to go like I always did and go from there.

"There's certain things to avoid, that's for sure. But it's not going to change my game. ... I'm healthy. That's the only thing I know. So, I don't know why I would rest. The energy is going to be there, for sure."

Letang hasn't played since Feb. 2, when he had one assist in 28:49 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Penguins announced April 5 that Letang would miss four to six months after undergoing neck surgery. The surgery was successful, albeit slightly frightening for Pittsburgh's defensive leader.

"When I woke up, it was hard," Letang said. I'm not going to lie. It was a tough first two weeks. A lot goes through your mind, but after that, I got more confidence. When the guys were playing, I was actually able to work out, do little things. I got my confidence back then that I was going to be healthy."

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