Nail Yakupov will get another chance in the St. Louis Blues’ lineup while Jori Lehtera heads upstairs for a stint in the press box.
While the St. Louis Blues’ lineup has undergone some bold transformations thus far during the 2016-17 season as Ken Hitchcock has attempted to keep 13 forwards involved, the change that’s in store for Saturday’s game against Winnipeg may be the boldest one yet, as center Jori Lehtera will serve as a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.
Lehtera, who has an average annual value of $4.7 million through the 2018-19 season, has had a very trying season. Through 20 games, he has just three goals and four assists with a plus-3 rating. Two of those goals were rather fluky, so it’s safe to say his level of production has not matched his salary.
While he has a career-high 53.85% success rate on face-offs so far this season, Lehtera hasn’t been able to contribute enough to justify his long-standing status as a linemate of Vladimir Tarasenko. He was bumped down to the third line, centering Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund, for Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay, and now he’ll fall a step lower on the totem pole. Just as the Blues have scratched guys like Jaskin, Robby Fabbri, Scottie Upshall, and Nail Yakupov to try to jumpstart their games, they’ll now do the same for Lehtera.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday that Lehtera’s absence is expected to last just one game. With that said, Hitchcock has made plenty of bold statements about future lineup moves in the past, then changed his mind after the team performed well. If the Blues’ third line stars in Saturday night’s game, it should be interesting to see how the situation is resolved.
Yakupov will get back into the lineup after sitting out for three straight and nine of the past 13 games as a healthy scratch. On a points-per-game basis, he’s actually been more productive than Lehtera, collecting two goals and three assists in 16 games, but the coaching staff has obviously had issues with the way that he’s performed within the system. With the Blues back at full health for the moment, Saturday’s game will be crucial for Yakupov if he doesn’t want to sit for a really long stretch.