Kris Letang lurched forward, eyes wide, and guffawed when he was told what a Penguins teammate had said about him 20 minutes earlier.

"He's the best [defenseman] now in the league," center Evgeni Malkin declared.

Letang, who along with Malkin and winger James Neal are representing the Penguins as All-Stars this weekend, wasn't ready to hear that.

But he was ready to acknowledge that, at 24, he has been able to develop his game a great deal since he was a third-round Penguins draft pick in 2005. He is a strong two-way defenseman and the power-play quarterback.

Letang trotted out a list of people who have been instrumental in his pro career, a list so long that if this had been an awards show rather than a large media event Friday, music would have started playing.

"I had great coaches," he said. "[Former Penguins coach] Michel Therrien helped me a lot, and Mike Yeo [now the Minnesota head coach]. I have [assistant] Todd Reirden, who works with me every day. We watch video every day together. [Coach] Dan Bylsma helps me a lot.

"[Former Penguins defenseman] Sergei Gonchar has been a great mentor to me. He talked to me pretty much every game while he was playing with us.

"It was just a question of learning. A defenseman sometimes take a little bit longer. But every day I stepped on the ice, I was learning. It's been a whole process of having those people around me."

Letang was named as a replacement All-Star player earlier this week. That's not a major surprise considering his talent.