Jori Lehtera apparently still has a while to go before he’s ready to return to the Blues.
Center Jori Lehtera has missed the St. Louis Blues’ last six games after being hit in the face with a puck during the team’s 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on March 10. The Blues haven’t necessarily shown that they’ve been affected by his absence, as they’ve gone 5-1 without him this month.
The desire for a Lehtera return might be slightly heightened now that top center Paul Stastny is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury, leaving Alexander Steen–he of the 35.48% faceoff percentage As head coach Mike Yeo told reporters after Thursday’s morning skate, though, Lehtera isn’t particularly close to returning to game action. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Jeremy Rutherford:
As long as Lehtera remains out, the Blues’ centers will be Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund, Ivan Barbashev, and Kyle Brodziak, and with Dmitrij Jaskin still recovering from an upper-body injury, it appears that Nail Yakupov will regain his spot in the lineup until further notice.
Thus, the biggest impact Lehtera (who has six goals and 13 assists in 61 games this season) could make by returning would be in the faceoff circle. All four of those players have been less than stellar on faceoffs this season, with Berglund (50.56%) just slightly leading Brodziak (47.53%) but beating Barbashev (40.83%) handily in that area.
Lehtera has regressed in the faceoff circle during each of his three NHL seasons, going from a 51.18% success rate as a rookie to a 50.05% mark last year and a 48.64% mark this season. He’s obviously not dominant, but if he could bump Steen or Barbashev back to the wing, he’d represent a serious upgrade. And since he’d only have to beat the offensive production of Yakupov, who has just three goals and three assists in 35 games, it’d suddenly be a nice boost for the Blues to get Lehtera back in the lineup.