On Wednesday, Finnish forward Jori Lehtera participated in his first informal practice with the St. Louis Blues, and was welcomed by a familiar face.
Vladimir Tarasenko, Lehtera’s former linemate with KHL club Novosibirsk Siber, was also on hand for the skate, foreshadowing what will be an offensive pairing to watch this season.
“We played one year on the same line in Siberia,” Lehtera explained, per the Blues website. “It was a good time to play with him. He’s a good player.”
Lehtera, 26, was drafted by St. Louis in 2008 but turned down several opportunities to join the club before inking a two-year, $5.5M deal this offseason. A playmaking center, Lehtera is projected to be an impact guy for the Blues this year and is already penciled in to play between Tarasenko and still-unsigned RFA Jaden Schwartz.
“[Lehtera’s] a big body, 6-2, 210 — very, very soft hands, a very good passer,” [Blues GM Doug] Armstrong said. “He’s a guy that can find players. I watched him at the World Championships give some guys some back-door tap ins on the power play. He’s just an offensive players where his strengths are his passing skills.
“Having the opportunity to watch him play at the Olympics firsthand, watching all his games at the World Championships, talking to people I know from the Finnish Federation, there’s very little question he’s ready to step in and be a contributing factor in the NHL.”
Lehtera and Tarasenko should have immediate chemistry. The two really connected with Novosibirsk; both were point-a-game players (Lehtera had 26 in 25 games, Tarasenko had 38 in 39) and the young Russian is coming off a stellar 2013-14 campaign, in which he scored 21 goals in 64 games and led the Blues with four goals in the playoffs.
It sounds like Lehtera is ready to make his mark on the NHL, too.
“Really good, really good,” he said of putting on a Blues jersey for the first time. “It’s been my dream since I was a little kid [to play in the NHL].”