When Jori Lehtera originally signed with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in 2010-11, his plan was to spend a single season in the KHL. He was getting a lot of playing time and excelled in the Russian league though, so he kept postponing his transition to North America.
St. Louis took him in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and had been pushing for him to sign for years, but it looked like he wouldn’t be joining the Blues anytime soon after he agreed to a multi-year deal with Novosibirsk Sibir in the summer of 2013.
It wasn’t until the 2014 Winter Olympics when Lehtera, who was playing for Finland, ran into Blues GM Doug Armstrong that the course of his career began to change.
“It was accidental,” Lehtera told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I saw him, I went to him to say ‘Hi.’ … I told him I (made) a mistake and he told me, ‘Come next year.’”
Armstrong initially kept the meeting a secret, both because Lehtera still needed to get out of his KHL deal and to avoid getting Blues fans excited before an agreement was finalized. In the end, the 26-year-old forward was able to get out of his contract by paying back 66 percent of it and is expected to finally make his Blues debut after inking a two-year, $5.5 million deal.
Lehtera had 44 points in 48 KHL games last season and had strong showings in the Olympics and World Championship. It remains to be seen how well he’ll adapt to the NHL level, but he’ll have years of European and international experience to lean back on and his transition should be made easier thanks to the presence of Vladimir Tarasenko, who previously played alongside Lehtera in the KHL.