It was not too long ago that we were expecting Jori Lehtera to be the next big thing. He’s been a big something – a big disappointment and that’s the sad fact.
It should be said that fans clearly jumped to conclusions. We all thought more of Lehtera than we should have before he even played a game in the note.
His rookie campaign did not help things much. Lehtera burst onto the scene in his first season in the NHL. He scored 14 goals and 44 points.
His first playoff campaign was not spectacular. He had two assists and only six shot attempts in five games. Still, there was enough to make both fans and the team figure bright things were on the horizon.
Doug Armstrong was so impressed he gave Lehtera an immediate extension and a big raise to $4.7 million per season. “When that decision was made to give him an extension, he had played one year in the league, he had close to 50 points, he was 28, it looked like a no-brainer at the time,” Armstrong said.
“I just thought you’re going to get a 50-point player for the next three or four years. If he gets to 60-65, awesome, but he’s not going to go quite honestly to where he is right now.”
The problem is Lehtera went where he is now. Nobody thought he’d take the dip he has, but that’s the only consistency he has shown.
His point totals have dropped by 10 or more points every season he’s been in the NHL. While we do have to realize he’s only been in the NHL three seasons now, he is at an age where what league you play in should not affect your production by those amounts.
Beyond just pure numbers, Lehtera’s problem may have been projection. We projected he’d have great chemistry with Tarasenko. We projected he’d build upon a 44 point rookie season and we projected out from his KHL numbers.
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In truth, he’s never been a 50 point guy but everyone thought he could be because he scored at higher rates. In 48 games in his final KHL season, he had 44 points. Even modest projections would put that up to around 60-65 points in 82 games.
That clearly has not panned out. Things went from bad to worse in 2016-17.
Lehtera got bit by the injury bug and only saw 64 games of action in the regular season. Even so, he was consistently with some of the Blues top players and only had 15 assists and 22 points. If you’re playing with guys that score 40 goals, you can’t only have 15 assists.
The big man did try to expand his game a bit. He upped his hit totals by over 20 to 64.
His facoff wins and percentage went down again. Like his goals, that has dropped each season as well.
As a player, he’s not awful. However, he is best suited as a wing on the third line in terms of production. He’s usually a center on the top two lines and therein lies the problem.
You cannot have that few assists and win that few faceoffs if you’re going to be a top line player and be getting top six money. Of course, it’s not his fault that Armstrong jumped the gun on his contract, but he gets less trouble about his contract than Paul Stastny gets and at least Stastny still puts up reasonable numbers.
Lehtera has unfortunately reached the point where people want him gone. Nobody hates the guy, but they are tired of him not being able to perform or live up to the expectations.
At this point, expectations are out the window. Fans would be content with another 40 point season.
It is hard to see any rebound though despite what the franchise believes. He shouldn’t have a season as bad as 2016-17 but his best might not be enough either.