Penguins notebook: Kris Letang takes full practice, likely to return Friday night

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Nothing official came Wednesday from the Penguins, but there were plenty of signs that an injured player or two will return this weekend.

The most likely is defenseman Kris Letang, a Norris Trophy finalist last season who has not played this season because of an apparent knee injury. He was paired with Rob Scuderi — his presumed defense partner for games — and manned a point position on the top power-play unit in practice at Southpointe.

The next game is Friday at home against the New York Islanders.

“In these two days of practice, it’s an opportunity to move him to a different area with a different pair and put him in some power-play [drills] and some different situations like we saw in practice,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

“That’s good for his progression.”

Bylsma also said that the practice was in part structured — with power-play drills at different times as in a game, rather than in one longer set — to benefit Letang.

But he did not say that Letang will play Friday.

Neither did Letang.

“I felt pretty good,” he said. “That was the main concern — try to feel 100 percent and try to make sure I don’t take any chances coming back.”

When Letang returns, he won’t see his ice time, usually well above 20 minutes a game, reduced a great deal.

“There is talk when you return a player to the lineup of protecting their minutes,” Bylsma said. “Kris in the past is not a guy you go in and say, ‘You’re going to play 16 minutes or 18 minutes,’ and protect his minutes.

“He has not played, and I don’t think we can give him a full complement of minutes when he gets there, but he can skate so well, it’s really not much of a big issue for him.”

Wingers James Neal and Beau Bennett, who have unspecified injuries, did not practice.

Winger Matt D’Agostini, also out because of an unspecified injury, is practicing and eligible to come off of long-term injured reserve Saturday, when the Penguins play at Toronto.

After practice, the Penguins re-assigned wingers Harry Zolnierczyk and Chris Conner to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Zolnierczyk played in three games, Conner two after their call-ups.

That leaves the Penguins with only 11 healthy, available forwards, but defenseman Deryk Engelland has played some as a fourth-line winger.

Nothing official on Maatta

Bylsma addressed the status of defenseman Olli Maatta this way:

“We’re well aware that Olli Maatta has played his ninth game and the next one would be his 10th, but we have not made a decision on that yet for our team.”

If Maatta plays Friday, his entry-level contract will kick in for this season. The only other option is to return Maatta to his junior team, the London Knights, before that game, but it does not appear that the club is going to do that.

Maatta, a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, has a goal and two assists. He was on a third pairing at practice with Matt Niskanen, who has been playing with Scuderi.

“He certainly doesn’t carry himself like a 19-year-old,” Bylsma said of Maatta. “He certainly doesn’t succumb to the pressures of playing as a young player in a difficult position. He hasn’t [reacted poorly] to mistakes or tough situations with the game closing in on him.”

Time for extra work

The Penguins got a built-in luxury this week — three days in a row without a game.

After a 1-0 loss Monday against Colorado, the team had a day off Tuesday. A workout today likely will be relatively standard if not a little shorter than usual.

But practice Wednesday lasted more than an hour and featured high-paced drills, including several competitive one-on-one battles.

“You look at the schedule, especially the first month-and-a-half, when you get it,” Bylsma said. “You look for opportunities to have a ‘workday.’ This was the perfect day for that. It was that for our group. It’s longer in duration, harder.

“It was a great opportunity early in the season to get that for the team. It’s a necessary part of how we want to play and how we want to practice.”

Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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