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Blues Happy to Get Lehtera to NHL

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 9:00 AM / St Louis Blues - News
By Louie Korac  - NHL.com Correspondent
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Blues Happy to Get Lehtera to NHL
The St. Louis Blues had to work hard to get Finnish center Jori Lehtera to North America, but they\'re expecting him to step in and play right away.

When the St. Louis Blues selected Jori Lehtera with their third-round pick at the 2008 NHL Draft, an element of the unknown followed the Finnish-born center, one that had nothing to do with his on-ice skills.

The looming question was whether the Blues could get Lehtera to North America.

Lehtera, 26, made impressive strides at the international level as well as playing for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and Sibir Novosibirsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Ultimately, he turned out to be the wild-card free agent signing that nobody in St. Louis saw coming.

When Blues general manager Doug Armstrong attempted to get Lehtera to the NHL before the 2013-14 season and was turned down, it was viewed as a possible last-gasp attempt to bring him to St. Louis.

Who would have thought a simple conversation at the 2014 Sochi Olympics would change the dynamics?


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The Blues made several changes this summer, including signing St. Louis native Paul Stastny and 2008 draft pick Jori Lehtera.
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"I had a good chat with him, quite honestly, at the Olympics at the dining hall," Armstrong said of Lehtera, who on July 1 signed a two-year contract. "I told him that we were disappointed that we couldn't come to an agreement, and he said at the end of the day he felt he made a mistake, which was the first step in saying, 'Well, if you can rectify that mistake, if you can get out of your contract, we'd love to have you.' ... This was our last and only opportunity to deal with him with no outside competition. We'd been dealing with the competition of the KHL, and the KHL has been winning up until this year.

"There's very little question he's ready to step in and be a contributing factor in the NHL. We've been working on this for a while since he said he could get out of his deal, but we've been trying to keep it a little bit under wraps not to get anyone's hopes up. He had to do the work first to get out of the deal before we could do anything."

Lehtera reportedly paid money out of his own pocket to get out of his KHL contract. That's how badly he wanted to rectify what he viewed as an error in judgment. And with the Blues in need of playmaking forwards, Lehtera fits the need for a No. 2 center, perhaps playing between Vladimir Tarasenko, his teammate with Sibir Novosibirsk, and Jaden Schwartz.

"You could tell [Lehtera's] just another big forward that we could really use," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told NHL.com. "He's got great speed and great skill."

Lehtera scored 55 goals and had 100 assists in four seasons in the KHL, including 12 goals and 44 points in 48 games in 2013-14. He had a goal and four assists for Finland's bronze medal-winning team in Sochi, then had three goals and nine assists in 10 games at the World Championship.

"I talked to two of the coaches during the Olympics what [Lehtera] was like and things like that," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, an assistant for Canada in Sochi. "They really liked him. The word that kept coming up was hockey savvy. They really felt like he's got hockey savvy."

Hitchcock has seen enough to know Lehtera can make an impact.

"I don't know where he's going to fit," Hitchcock said. "All I know is he's going to fit. For me, I don't know where he's going to fit, but with that type of moxie and hockey sense and gamesmanship, he's going to find a place to play."

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STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 ANA 48 32 10 6 143 124 70
2 NSH 46 31 10 5 141 107 67
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 48 30 16 2 151 112 62
5 WPG 49 26 15 8 138 122 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 46 26 17 3 124 118 55
8 CGY 48 26 19 3 140 126 55
9 LAK 48 21 15 12 133 129 54
10 COL 49 20 18 11 128 141 51
11 DAL 47 21 19 7 146 154 49
12 MIN 47 21 20 6 130 138 48
13 ARI 47 16 25 6 108 160 38
14 EDM 48 12 27 9 110 160 33

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
V. Tarasenko 46 24 23 23 47
A. Steen 44 15 25 8 40
K. Shattenkirk 46 8 31 17 39
J. Schwartz 39 16 21 15 37
D. Backes 45 16 17 5 33
J. Lehtera 45 9 21 16 30
T. Oshie 38 13 15 11 28
A. Pietrangelo 46 4 23 0 27
P. Stastny 38 9 16 5 25
P. Berglund 45 6 9 -1 15
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
B. Elliott 13 5 2 .930 1.86
J. Allen 13 5 2 .900 2.65

 
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