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Kris Letang playing big role in helping Penguins’ coaching staff

GLENDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 11: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates up to a face off during the third period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – It’s hard for Kris Letang to watch Pittsburgh Penguins games these days. Those sitting near him at the arena are subject to his excitable reactions, as his emotions hang on every moment.

“I don’t work the best way by watching. But I’m really happy for those guys. They worked really hard,” Letang said on Tuesday from the Penguins’ practice facility. “To see them at this level, at this stage, it’s fun to watch. I’m happy to watch that.”

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The 30-year-old Letang last played on Feb. 21. Weeks later, the Penguins announced that his season was over after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. His injury hasn’t kept him away from the team, however. Head coach Mike Sullivan felt it was important to keep him around, so not only does he announce the starting lineup in the dressing room before games, he also serves as an extra pair of eyes for the coaching staff.

“He sits in on some of our coaches’ meetings that we have, not all of them but some of them,” Sullivan said. “We certainly value his input. He has great relationships with his teammates. I think he has the ability to have one-on-one conversations with or group conversations with defense pairs or the defensemen as a whole or the power play, whatever it may be.

“He has the ability to have informal conversations with these guys. He can offer his insights or his perspective from seeing the game from a different vantage point than being on the ice. I think he has so much to offer this group, both our coaching staff and the team as a whole, even though he’s not in our lineup.”

Letang has started working out again and while he has thrown his skates on a few times since the surgery, he’s yet to return to the ice. In the meantime, he’s a few weeks away from another meeting with doctors where he’s confident he’ll be cleared to resume skating.

For now, he’s adjusting to his new role with the Penguins and watching from a different angle through coaching eyes has given Letang a different perspective on the game; one that he feels will help him when he returns next season.

“You kind of realize things that you don’t really see at the ice level. I think as a player, I’m going to learn a lot, too, watching in different situations,” Letang said. “It’s easy now to go down and tell those guys, Hey, this is open. You might not feel like it, but this is open.

“It’s a different aspect. I always try to think when you’re watching a game, you’re actually getting better, you’re learning more.”

A year ago, the Penguins were playing for Pascal Dupuis, who was forced to walk away from the game due to issues related to blood clots. This year, it’s Letang, another long-time member of the organization and a key piece of the franchise’s last two Stanley Cup victories.

His presence, just like Dupuis’ last season, means a lot not only to Letang, but also to his teammates.

“It’s been great to have him back around the guys. He’s been real supportive,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “I know it’s probably not easy for him watching. It’s been great to have him around. You can see his spirits are high. He feels good. That’s the best thing we could see.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!