For the second straight season, Jori Lehtera saw a decline in points. From an impressive rookie year with 44 in 2014-15 to 34 to 22 last year, the Finnish center has been in a long free fall.
That’s one of the reasons the St. Louis Blues traded him at the draft. The other is that he carries a whopping $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons. That’s why the team gave up two first-rounders to offload him for Brayden Schenn.
In Lehtera’s first season in the NHL, the Blues paired him with Vladimir Tarasenko, who he had previously played with in the KHL. The next season, Lehtera didn’t see as much ice with the Russian superstar. The drop-off in points isn’t so confusing.
Last season, Lehtera also dealt with injuries that held him back to just 64 games, the lowest of his career. When he was playing, though, he wasn’t doing much, creating just seven goals and 15 assists.
Bleedin’ Blue, a FanSided Blues website, graded Lehtera at a D- for his performance and stated that over-expectations played a factor in most fans’ feelings toward the 29 year old.
Lehtera will be fighting from the first day at camp for a consistent spot in the bottom six. He normally had a spot in the top six in St. Louis, but that isn’t happening in Philly. When he is in the lineup it will be in a defensive bottom-six role.
There won’t be any over-expectations for Lehtera in a Flyers uniform. Most have him pegged in on the third or fourth-line role.
However, Lehtera wants to get off to a better first impression than that and has been working on his skating during the offseason. Flyers fans are used to that mantra, though, having seen R.J. Umberger and Vincent Lecavalier try to improve in the same area…and we all saw how that worked out.
The issue is that if you’re 30 years of age or over and skating isn’t already a strength, it’s going to be tough to improve. Maybe it will be different for Lehtera, but history and logic isn’t on his side.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t provide something to the Flyers. At the bare minimum, he’ll be an improvement on Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and should be acceptable as a third-line replacement.
At this point, 25 points seems like the max for Lehtera, but as long as he improves Philadelphia’s bottom line and the penalty kill, he’ll be valuable. With that being said, the best possible outcome is that general manger Ron Hextall finds a way to shed his contract before next season.