When the Flyers acquired a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost), a conditional 2018 first-round pick and NHL veteran forward Jori Lehtera from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Brayden Schenn on June 23, they made a move designed to further add to one of the NHL's deepest prospect pools while also obtaining a useful role player for the immediate future.
The Flyers do not expect Lehtera, whose NHL goal-scoring high is 14 (2014-15 with St. Louis) and who scored seven goals last season, to single-handedly make up for Schenn's 25 goals (17 power play tallies) last season. Rather, the team will rely on a push for balanced scoring - higher output from veterans, the continued emergence of second-year pro Travis Konecny and, if they prove themselves ready for the NHL next season, on contributions from potential rookie roster players.
Rather, what the Flyers expect to see from the 29-year-old Lehtera is a solid two-way game, underrated playmaking ability and contributions in the subtle-but-important areas of the game that contribute to quality shifts and momentum for the team. Whether at home or on the road, he can be used in a variety of different matchups at 5-on-5 and can be a supplementary piece on special teams.
The late-blooming Lehtera, who compiled 30 assists among his 44 points two seasons ago and 25 assists in 2015-16, is a clever passer. As with most European-trained centers, Lehtera often thinks pass-first although his NHL coaches will like the career 11.9 percent shooter to attempt a few more shots. Although not especially physical, he knows how to use his 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame and heavy stick effectively on both sides of the puck.
For the analytics minded, Lehtera has typically been solid in his puck possession metrics at 5-on-5 (helped by starting nearly 60 percent of his even strength shifts in the offensive zone) and is an above average two-way player by the current day definition. He typically has posted outstanding credited takeaway vs. charged giveaway ratios and has won slightly more than half (50.3 percent) of the draws he's taken to date in his NHL career.
The combination of his strengths in these areas often enable Lehtera to make positive contributions to his team even when he does not post points. In terms of his traditional plus-minus rating, Lehtera is a combined plus-27 for his three-season NHL career and was a combined plus-33 over his first two campaigns in St. Louis before a minus-seven this past season.
Lehtera has played both ends of special teams in his NHL career, although more on the power play side (owing to his playmaking ability) than on the penalty kill. This past season, he averaged 1:29 of power play time per game and 25 seconds of penalty killing ice time. The previous year, he pulled an average 1:51 of power play time and 49 seconds on the PK. With the Flyers next season, Lehtera may be asked to absorb more penalty killing responsibilities while also potentially being part of the second power play unit.
The Finnish forward is coming off a down season offensively. However, this may have been at least partially owed to injury as he spent two stints on injured reserve with concussion-like symptoms. A few weeks prior to the trade to the Flyers, Lehtera admitted to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that 2016-17 was far from his best work and he aims to recover the form that made him an effective player for the Blues his first two seasons in the NHL.
"It was a different summer because of the World Cup and that was like a weird start of the season, it was a lot of games to go through," Lehtera said to the Post Dispatch. "When you don't play at the level you want … and then the injury, everything, it was just a lot of things going (wrong). But that can't happen anymore. I think next year, it's a most important season for me."