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Penguins say Letang’s illness caused by a stroke

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has been discovered to have had a stroke, the team said Friday.

Letang, 26, has been undergoing tests for more than a week.

He will be treated with blood-thinners and miss at least six weeks. It is not believed his situation is career-threatening.

During testing, a small hole was discovered in the wall of Letang’s heart, and that could be related to his stroke.

Letang first felt dizziness and nausea Jan. 29. He has not played since, but coach Dan Bylsma said it wasn’t until Thursday afternoon that the full scope of what Letang was dealing with became known.

“To have the episode, to find out that you’ve had a stroke, it’s scary,” Bylsma said. “It’s been scary for Kris as a hockey player, but also Kris the person.

“You kind of shake your head in thinking that this would be a possibility for him, for an athlete, a 26-year-old.”

Letang is cleared to work out and go on vacation during the NHL’s Olympic break, which for the Penguins starts after tonight’s home game against the New York Rangers.

He is expected to skate on his own — and speak publicly — when the team reconvenes later this month.

In a statement, Letang said he hoped others could learn from his situation.

“I hope that by making my condition public at this time, I can help other people by encouraging them to seek medical help if they experience some of the symptoms associated with a stroke — regardless of their age or general health,” he said in the statement. “It obviously was a shock to get the news, but I’m optimistic that I can overcome this and get back on the ice.”

Letang last season was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman. This season — which has been limited to 34 games because of earlier knee and elbow problems — he has 10 goals, 18 points.

“There are a few special players in the league,” Bylsma said. “Luckily, we have a couple of them here. But Kris is a special player. He has special skills, and he can bring something to the game that not every player can bring. His skating ability, his shot, his offensive ability, it’s special. You can’t replace that.”

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