As most of us saw yesterday, Jori Lehtera had surgery on a bad ankle and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks, which essentially rules him out of training camp for the St. Louis Blues this year. While he’ll be an integral part of the forward lines in the upcoming season, his early absence may actually be a boon for some other pieces of the Blues offensive puzzle.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Lehtera found success in his first NHL season in 2014-15 largely due to the chemistry he immediately developed with Vladimir Tarasenko in training camp last year, earning himself a 3-year contract extension. It might seem predetermined then that Ken Hitchcock would continue pairing those two on the ice in hopes of replicating the scoring they were able to generate. One of the biggest doubts I have in Hitchcock’s ability to make the kinds of changes necessary to get the Blues to the next level, i.e. the Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup, is whether he’ll utilize his roster in the most efficient manner.
With Lehtera out for this year’s camp, Paul Stastny is the likely candidate to pair Tarasenko, and with the opportunity to find some sort of rhythm in the pre-season Blues fans should be delighted with the results. Everyone around the league knows Tarasenko is a star and will score regardless of who he’s skating with, but St. Louis brought Stastny in specifically to be the play-making, top-tier centerman they’d been lacking. If the home-town hero can return to top-line minutes I believe we’ll him putting up the kinds of number he did in Colorado and then some. He and Tarasenko should elevate each other which could mean fantastic things for the Blues.
A Bright Future
Lehtera is a good investment for the Blues and can become a solid second-line center for the future, assuming he fully recovers from his ankle surgery and there’s little reason to believe he won’t. I don’t think he’s top-tier, middle of the ice talent though, and he’ll serve St. Louis better on another line, hopefully paired with guys like Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri to whom he can feed the puck and put gaudy numbers of his own on the score sheet.
The proof will be in the line combinations that emerge from training camp this year. Lehtera could return by the end of October and add some depth to the Blues scoring that might be lacking on Opening Night, but I doubt we’ll see too much of that from assisting on Tarasenko goals. It could even be the year for Lehtera to blaze his own path into the hearts of St. Louis fans without riding the shirt-tails of other team standouts.