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Jori Lehtera Injury Raises Questions for Blues

On Monday, the St. Louis Blues announced they’ll be without one of their top two centers for the next six-to-eight weeks. Jori Lehtera had successful ankle surgery stemming from an injury suffered at the end of last season. The sudden news raises several questions about what has been going on since the Blues were eliminated from the playoffs in late April.

Why is Lehtera having surgery three months after his offseason began?

Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong told The St. Louis Post Dispatch that the team opted for rest and rehabilitation with Lehtera’s injury, but the ankle continued to bother him when he skated on his own back in Finland. That’s when the decision was made to have surgery.

The 27-year-old is coming off a strong first season in the NHL. He scored 14 goals and 44 assists in 75 games, playing alongside sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, a former KHL teammate.

The chemistry between Lehtera and Tarasenko was evident from the start of last season and that may point to more success and scoring in the coming years. That’s why the Blues wanted to lock up both players long-term to make sure they stay together.

Lehtera came first, signing a three-year extension on July 1 worth $14 million. He’s now under contract through the 2018-2019 season. One month later, his linemate Tarasenko cashed in after a breakout season, signing an eight year deal worth $60 million. With the news of his ankle surgery coming to light, the extension given to Lehtera may raise a few more questions.

Why did the Blues sign Lehtera to a new contract with a raise of nearly $2 million annually, before they knew he was fully healthy?

The Blues did the right thing locking up Lehtera long-term, but doing so before they knew how his ankle injury would play out raises a red flag.

There is so much demand on a hockey players’ skating ability and a lot of pressure is placed on the lower body. Having a nagging ankle injury will significantly hinder a player’s ability. The Blues insist Lehtera will be ready for the start of the regular season on October 8, but he will need a few weeks to get back into shape after he misses all of training camp.

Lehtera’s absence at camp will open the door for younger players either fighting for more playing time or just trying to make the team. A pair of 2011 second-round picks may be in the best position to take advantage.

Ty Rattie was drafted 32nd overall in 2011, followed by Dmitrij Jaskin at 41st overall. Both are expected to make an impact with the Blues this upcoming season.

Jaskin has been on a faster path to the NHL than Rattie, having scored 13 goals in 54 games with the Blues last season. Jaskin’s size (6’2”, 196 pounds) helped him make the jump faster. At just 5’11”, 170 pounds, the Blues have given Rattie time to build more strength and speed in the AHL. This may be the season that Rattie makes a push for more playing time in the pros.

2014 first-round pick Robby Fabbri is also determined to make the club in training camp. He’s a natural goal scorer and playmaker who impressed at last month’s prospect camp in St. Louis. Fabbri was the best player on the ice during the four-day camp.

These options at forward will allow the Blues to be patient with Lehtera’s recovery from ankle surgery. Although the six-to-eight week timetable sets his return in time for the season-opener, it may not be a necessity. The Blues’ depth allows them to give other players like Fabbri a chance to make an impact and get some NHL experience early in the season.

It will be wise for the Blues to make sure Lehtera is fully healed before letting him return to NHL game action. It is more critical for Lehtera to be ready for a playoff run in April and beyond than for him to suit up for games in October.

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