The St. Louis Blues thought they had a diamond in the rough when they brought Jori Lehtera over from Europe. Initial stardom has faded and the Blues are left with dead weight.
The St. Louis Blues have had mixed luck with European players. The team has gone through various waves of Russian and other European players over the years and have had mixed results.
Unlike the Detroit Red Wings of the 1990’s, the Blues own dabbing in Russian waters did not have quit the success at the time. St. Louis went without any major foreign players for quite a time until this current crop entered the league.
Vladimir Tarasenko has proven to be more than worth the wait, turning into one of the league’s best scorers. That’s why Blues fans were excited the team was bringing in one of Tarasenko’s KHL teammates.
Knowing very little about the guy other than his Finnish heritage and having played briefly with Tarasenko in the Russian league, fans still had high hopes. Perhaps people were not going as far as the next Hull and Oates, but there were expectations to say the least.
Not helping those expectations was Lehtera’s rookie year. His first season in the NHL, Jori Lehtera scored 14 goals and had 44 points.
Those are not astronomical numbers, but players have struggled in the past when coming over to America in the past. For him to come out of the gates strong, the team and its fans thought they had a top center for years to come.
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Sadly, things have gone downhill for Lehtera since then. His regular season point totals have dipped 10 or more points each season, going from 44 to 34 to 22.
Additionally, just about every statistical category other than hits has gone down. Faceoff percentages fell each season, shots have gone down and time on the ice has reflected these drops.
Lehtera’s problem (or his saving grace) is he always manages to do just enough to keep himself around. His playoff numbers have been iffy over his career, but last year gave the team hope.
En route to the Western Conference Finals, Lehtera had three goals and nine points in 20 games. Again, not lighting the world on fire, but decent numbers for a guy supposedly slipping off the map.
The issue now is that Lehtera just is not providing what the Blues need from him. They brought him in to be a top line center and, at best he’s a third liner and maybe should be out of the lineup.
Defenders will point to his playoff run. A goal and four points in seven games played is not terrible, but he’s not making impactful plays.
Part of Lehtera’s problem is his timing. Blues fans have been treated to too many heavily promoted but underwhelming large guys.
All of these players should be like bulls in a china shop. They have hands, they have skills, they can skate and should be able to bully their way around the rink. That happens once in a blue moon.
The issue now is that the team is too attached. They keep hoping the player will live up to the expectations and it just is not likely to happen.
While the Blues had to make lineup alterations due to injury for Game 5 of the 2017 Conference Semi-Finals, Lehtera was going to be in there even with the rumored lines. Instead of going with youthful players like Zach Sanford who have just as much promise and fewer hang ups.
Compounding Lehtera’s issues is his contract. Lehtera is earning $4.7 million per season for two more years to provide numbers that just are not cutting it.
Nobody is rooting against this guy. Blues fans want him to succeed. We know it is not likely to happen at this point.
Like those other players before him, Lehtera has reached the point where he is what is is.
The Blues have younger and potentially more talented options to use right now. Having playoff experience no longer seems like enough of an excuse to keep him in the lineup.
If you are willing to put him on the fourth line, then maybe it’s worth it to keep him out of the lineup entirely.
It can’t hurt.