By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to ECHL.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Mark Letestu had gotten comfortable.
Entering his fifth full season in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, the Elk Point, Alberta native was relishing an opportunity to play a role at the NHL level on a team that had a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup every year. And then, just like that, the former Wheeling Nailers centerman was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a fourth-round pick on Nov. 8, 2011.
“Obviously, there’s shock,” he told ECHL.com before a recent game at Nationwide Arena.
“I’ve never been traded; junior or anything like that, so it was the first time for me. It was an adjustment going from a perennial contender to the basement, and the basement by a long margin there at the time. So you try to come and make the most of the situation, and you try to make yourself as valuable as possible when you get there and hope to make yourself a part of the future.”
Letestu, who played in six games for the Nailers during the 2007-08 season, joined the Blue Jackets when they were far from what they’ve become now.
“We’ve definitely raised our standards,” he said.
“I think the standards when I first got here for what was an acceptable day-in, day-out performance was pretty low. That’s certainly been raised. The message from management has been, ‘Brick by brick, we’re going to build this thing.’”
The 28-year-old tallied 13 goals last season, one short of a career-high despite playing just 46 games due to the lockout-shortened year. As things have slowly but surely taken a turn for the better in Columbus, Letestu has been an under-the-radar reason why.
“Of course I feel like I’m a part of it,” he said. “I come from Pittsburgh where things were done a certain way, building to win championships every year. So you try to bring some of those things you learn here, and try to share it with some of the young guys.”
And those lessons include those learned while in West Virginia, where he scored one goal and added two assists in his six ECHL contests.
“I think you try not to take being here for granted,” Letestu said. “When you’re in the ECHL, it seems like a long ways to get here. So you learn some humility there — when you think you should be somewhere else, you learn you have to work. It’s a good league, there’s a lot of good players who have come from that league and taken the long way. I certainly cherish my time there.”