When Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby were 16 years old, they were already projected to be among the best NHL players of all time.
When Mark Letestu was 16 years old, he was with the St. Paul Canadiens, a junior B team not far from his home town of Elk Point, Alta.
“I was hoping to play junior A hockey,” recalled Letestu, who announced his retirement on Sunday. “I’m still in the eleventh grade, trying to get through Math 20. It would have been a long view to think about anything like an NHL career.”
From St. Paul, Letestu would go on to star with the Bonnyville Pontiacs, winning AJHL MVP in 2005/06. After a season at Western Michigan University, he earned a pro contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm team.
By the fall of 2010, he was an NHL regular. Letestu would play 567 NHL games, including 220 with the Edmonton Oilers from 2015 – 2018. His first year with the Oilers was the team’s final season in Rexall Place.
“The first year for me was special. Playing in that building was special. That was the building dad would take me up to to watch exhibition games,” he said.
In 2016/17, Letestu was part of the Oilers team that opened Rogers Place and ended a 10-year playoff drought.
“Connor’s a year older. Leon (Draisaitl) is now part of the team full time. It just seemed like a progression. It just seemed like it had to go that way. (Goaltender) Cam (Talbot) was great. He had a franchise record for wins,” Letestu said.
The Oilers sent Letestu to Nashville at the trade deadline in 2018. The Predators immediately swapped him to Columbus for his second stint with the Blue Jackets.
He signed with Winnipeg for the 2019/20 season but wound up only playing seven games with the Jets because of a heart problem. Since then, retirement had become more and more imminent.
“I’ve had a lot of time at home. I’ve basically been at home since last November with my myocarditis. I got a chance to reintegrate myself into family life,” said Letestu. “At some point, you start to realize what you are. I would have been a minor league guy expected to help some prospects along.”
Letestu, his wife and their three children will keep Columbus as a home base. He would like to stay involved in hockey, and a role in player development seems likely.
This week, he’ll spend some time reflecting on the journey from St. Paul to the NHL. He would wind up being a teammate to both Crosby and McDavid during his career. His time with the Oilers will forever be a career highlight.
“I appreciate every damn second I got to play for that team.”