After ‘bad’ season, Lehtera at crossroads in St. Louis

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Jori Lehtera‘s first NHL campaign was an unquestioned success. He scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games, and looked to have great chemistry with Vladimir Tarasenko.

Since then? Things have gone south.

Lehtera’s sophomore campaign was down slightly in terms of production — nine goals and 34 points in 79 games — though he had a decent playoff, scoring nine points as St. Louis advanced to the Western Conference final.

This year, though, was a major letdown.

Lehtera missed extensive time with an upper-body injury then, after recovering, was parked as a healthy scratch. The 29-year-old Finn then suffered a concussion in March, missed another 12 games, and was in and out of the Blues’ lineup during the playoffs.

Lehtera told the Post-Dispatch “it was a bad season for myself,” adding that he needed to come back next season and show “I can play much better hockey.”

But will he even get the chance?

Lehtera’s three-year extension — which GM Doug Armstrong gave him after the aforementioned first NHL campaign — kicked in this past season. He has two years left at $4.7 million per, a big price to pay for a forward that scored seven goals in 64 games.

More, from the Post-Dispatch:

The Blues might not be able to trade Lehtera, but he could be lost in the NHL expansion draft June 21, when the Vegas Golden Knights select their roster. The Blues will protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, and Lehtera is likely to be left off the list.

“We’ll be talking to Vegas the first of June on what they want to do,” Armstrong said. “It’s not only what we’re going to protect, but what other teams are going to make available. I think there could be a flurry of activities.”

If there’s no traction at the expansion draft, Armstrong could move Lehtera simply to get some younger forwards in the mix, something fans in St. Louis have been clamoring for. Ivan Barbashev made strides this year, while ’15 first-rounder Tage Thompson turned pro, and gained valuable experience playing for AHL Chicago.

Speaking of the Wolves, will AHL leading scorer Kenny Agostino get a look? He captured league MVP honors on the strength of 83 points in 65 games, and is only 25 years old. In seven games with the Blues this year, he racked up three points.

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