Jori Lehterä, or Jori Lehtera if you don’t like to use the correct punctuation, was drafted in the third round the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, 65th overall, by the St. Louis Blues. Many Blues fans believe that if Lehterä comes to the NHL that he may be the playmaking center that the Blues have been searching for.
Hockey’s Future outlines Lehterä’s skills as such:
Lehterä combines some abilities of a large all-around centerman and a flamboyant scoring winger. Above all he is an adept stick handler able to move in small spaces and a gifted set-up man, combining positioning and passes to create scoring opportunities by himself if need be. On the top of it, Lehterä is a cold-blooded finisher at short range. On the downside, he hasn’t developed his defensive skills properly, although he isn’t too bad at the two-way game. He also remains too much on the receiving end of physical play. His most limiting factor is his questionable skating.
So with a general understanding of the type of player he is, what has he done? Well, in 2005-06, Lehterä was held out of international play as a junior because he was known for being a “solo artist” and not playing a team oriented game. Still, Lehterä was able to dominate his competition and showed his skill playing alongside Kim Strömberg. In 2006-07, Lehterä and Strömberg were separated and it became apparent just how skilled Lehterä could be on his own. That year Lehterä led the Finnish Junior A League scoring 66 points in just 24 games. That year Lehterä would not be excluded from international play, at least in theory, as he was selected to join the Finnish team at the World Juniors Championships, but he was unable to play due to injury.
In 2007-08 Lehterä would transfer to Tappara of the SM-Liga. That season Lehterä put up an impressive 29 assists and a plus 12 rating leading his team in both categories. Despite his age, Lehterä was quickly proving to be one of the best playmakers in the SM-Liga. In total, he scored 42 points in 54 games that season. Lehterä would follow up his stellar performance with an even better one in 2008-09. Scoring nine goals and 38 assists for 47 points, Lehterä once again showed that his game was improving and he was ready for the North American game. After posting nine points in three playoff games, Lehterä would make the jump to North America for his first look at what the NHL would be like. Although Lehterä wouldn’t suit up for the Blues, he did make appearances in seven regular season games as well as seven playoff games for the Peoria Rivermen. In his brief AHL stint he only managed to put up one goal and two assists.
While many hoped Lehterä would stay in North America to develop, it was not to be so. In 2009-10 he returned to Tappara and once again had a strong showing. With 19 goals and 50 assists in just 57 games, Lehterä was outgrowing the SM-Liga. Add in the one goal and nine assists in just nine playoff games and it only seemed natural that Lehterä would need to test his skills against tougher competition. Once again Blues fans hoped that he would make the jump to North America to give it another go in the AHL and possibly break into the NHL, but that was not in the cards.
In 2010-11 Lehterä transferred to the KHL as a member of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv playing alongside of former NHL players such as Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek. Wth 16 goals, 21 assists and a plus 15 rating in just 53 games, it appeared Lehterä was the real deal. While he would not put up impressive numbers in the playoffs, his season was still a sign that he was steadily improving.
Fortunately, Lehterä signed with Sibir Novosibirsk in the offseason for the 2011-12 season. At the beginning of that season, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv’s plane would go down and one of the biggest tragedies that hockey has ever seen would occur. After scoring 26 points in 25 games for Sibir Novosibirsk, playing on the same team as another Blues prospect Vladimir Tarasenko, Lehterä would suffer a season ending knee injury. Coming back in 2012-13, Lehterä put up an impressive 17 goals and 31 assists in just 52 games. In the playoffs he would add a pair of assists in just three games.
Now, with his contract up in the KHL, St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong is trying to persuade his promising prospect to come back to North America. With the St. Louis Blues having an immediate need for a playmaking center, this may be the most cost effective, reasonable way for the Blues to fill that need. While many analysts talk about how a superstar like Brad Richards could add to this team or how the Blues could make a big trade to land a star centermen, we have to remember that the Blues are on a budget. While Lehterä may not be proven in the NHL, he comes with some serious numbers that would demand quite a bit more if he had been in the NHL these past few seasons.
So is Lehterä the answer to the Blues need or will they be looking to increase salary and add through trade or big free agent signings? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
LET’S GO BLUES!