Tag: Jori Lehtera

New York Rangers v St. Louis Blues

Blues’ biggest question: Are they good enough down the middle?


Jonathan Toews. Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter. Patrice Bergeron. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup almost always have an elite center. As you can see, some of them even have two.

Do the St. Louis Blues?

The answer to that will depend on your definition of elite. If it’s a generous one, then maybe Paul Stastny gets the nod. Otherwise, it’s hard to answer yes.

Next season, the Blues’ top two lines could look something like this:

Alex Steen – Paul Stastny — David Backes
Jaden Schwartz — Jori Lehtera — Vladimir Tarasenko

If one of Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie or Robby Fabbri can step into a top-six role, coach Ken Hitchcock has said that Backes could be moved to the third line.

Regardless of how the lines shake out, it’s no surprise that the Blues were left wanting more from Stastny, their big free-agency signing from last summer.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “We need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Stastny had 46 points in 74 games last season. He then managed just one goal, with no assists, in the Blues’ six-game playoff loss to the Wild.

Not enough from a player who was supposed to be a difference-maker in the tough Western Conference.

“I think in every sport if you’re strong up the middle you’re usually a strong team,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per Yahoo Sports. “The center icemen seem to be the catalyst, usually offensively. They’re the guys who have the puck the most and make maybe the most decisions on the ice based on the number of touches they have in a game.”

Which is why there’s so much excitement in Washington about young Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But we digress.

The Blues are obviously a strong team. Their regular-season record is proof of that. But they haven’t been able to win that elusive Cup, so it’s only natural to pore over their roster in search of why.

Their lack of a truly elite center — and this goes for good teams like the Wild, Predators, Canadiens, Rangers, and Jets — may be as good an answer as any.

Related: Doug Armstrong is under pressure

Blues announce that Lehtera had ankle surgery last week

Jori Lehtera

The St. Louis Blues announced today that forward Jori Lehtera underwent successful surgery on his right ankle on Aug. 4.

According to the Blues, Lehtera “suffered the injury at the end of last season and is expected to be available to skate in six to eight weeks.”

More from Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch, with a quote from GM Doug Armstrong:

The Blues open the regular season on Oct. 8, slightly less than two months from today.

Related: Blues re-sign Lehtera: three years, $14.1 million

Hitch says Backes’ role will be determined by play of Jaskin, Rattie, and Fabbri

David Backes

A pending unrestricted free agent, David Backes could be relegated to third-line duty next season for the Blues.

According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview with coach Ken Hitchcock, Backes’ role will be determined by the readiness of youngsters Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie and Robby Fabbri. If one of those three can hold down a top-six role, Backes will likely be the third-line center. If not, Hitchcock is planning for Backes to play right wing in the top six, with Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera as the top two centers.

“I can tell you right now, (Backes) is going to play more right wing than he’s played since I got here,” said Hitchcock. “Whether he’s a full-time player there or not, we don’t know yet. That depends on those three young kids.”

Backes had 26 goals and 32 assists last season. The 31-year-old’s long-term future with the Blues is not clear at this point.

Blues re-sign Lehtera: three years, $14.1 million

Jori Lehtera

Jori Lehtera has scored big after his first season in St. Louis — on Wednesday, the Blues inked him to a three-year, $14.1 million deal with a $4.7M average annual cap hit.

More, from the club:

Lehtera, 27, appeared in 75 regular season games with the Blues during his first National Hockey League (NHL) season in 2014-15, posting 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists) while ranking second on the club with a +21 rating. He also added two assists in five postseason outings.

Lehtera’s extension kicks in at the start of the 2016-17 campaign. He has one year left on his current deal, which pays $2.75 million annually.

Blues without Jori Lehtera for Game 5 vs. Wild

Jori Lehtera

The St. Louis Blues are looking to build off of their commanding 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild, but they’ll have to do so without Jori Lehtera. The 27-year-old forward absorbed a shot from teammate Jay Bouwmeester during the final frame of Wednesday’s contest and is sidelined as a result.

Lehtera also missed St. Louis’ morning skate, but at the time Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wasn’t ready to completely rule him out.

“I’m thinking he’s 50-50 to play, but we’re leaning more toward playing him than not,” Hitchcock said after the practice, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’ll see how it goes.”

With Lehtera unavailable, Paul Stastny is projected to play alongside Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Marcel Goc will reenter the lineup after being scratched in Game 4 and he’s likely to center the third line.

Lehtera, who made the move to St. Louis this season after excelling in the KHL, scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 contests in the regular season. He’s recorded two assists in four playoff games.

Minnesota and St. Louis’ series is tied at 2-2.