Veteran center Mark Letestu has been a hot name on the rumor mill this season. The 32-year-old is an impending free agent coming off a career-high 35 points last season. While not a statistical machine, Letestu has been the definition of reliable in his nine-year NHL career. He can play on the power play and penalty kill, excels at the face-off dot, and is hardly ever found taking a bad penalty. With the Edmonton Oilers struggling this season, it seemed that one silver lining could be the return they could get for the dependable Letestu.
That dream may have slipped away already though, as 2017-18 continues to be just as disappointing for Letestu as it has for the Oilers. Through 48 games, Letestu’s 16 points puts him well off his pace from last season and much of those offensive struggles have come lately. Letestu has not recorded a point in 14 games and his last assist came back on December 12th, as his production has dried up completely. Tack on Letestu’s -15 rating, the worst on the team, and the once-reliable forward has been both an offensive non-factor and defensive liability this season. As a result, his ice time has suffered. Letestu has skated in under 10 minutes in six games this season, including back-to-back eight-minute games last week; he had one such game last season.
Now, coach Todd McLellan has taken the next step. Even with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sidelined with injury, the Oilers’ bench boss has decided he has had enough of Letestu’s lackluster play, making him a healthy scratch for tonight’s big game against their Alberta rivals, the Calgary Flames. Even taking into account the poor play of the entire Oilers team this year, it still does not excuse the drop-off in all around play by Letestu this season. Now, not only has he been objectively bad, but even his team has lost confidence in his ability. Perhaps this benching will jump start Letestu’s season and he can rebuild his trade value over the next month, ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline. Otherwise, GM Peter Chiarelli may essentially give away the expiring center, as he won’t come close to the once-promising return he may have gotten earlier in the year.