NEW YORK -- Jori Lehtera arrived in NHL this season with the goal of becoming a full-time player with the St. Louis Blues in his mind and 80 pre-sharpened sets of skate blades in his luggage. And yes, one definitely has to do with the other.
"I played last four years in Russia after my first year I went to [Finnish] national team and the equipment guy there told me I played the whole season with the same sharpening on my skates that the goalies had," Lehtera told NHL.com. "After that I hooked up with this guy in Finland and he gave me the sponsor so I can use these blades and he sharpens them for me."
The hollow on Lehtera's skate blade in his first season in the Kontinental Hockey League was flat, so it made cutting through the ice and turning much more taxing on his legs. Since he's been using his pre-sharpened blades he said he is faster and doesn't feel nearly the amount of stress in his legs.
That's why he has continued to use the RamonEdge blades, which he said are wider than the normal blade and require a different sharpening technique. He has them sharpened by a friend of his in Finland.
Center - STL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 15 | +/-: 4
Lehtera said he has a sponsorship agreement with RamonEdge so he can use the blades for free. He said he knows Mikael Granlund uses the same blades.
"I was thinking the whole year when I was using the goalie sharpened blades that I was in bad shape, but I wasn't in bad shape," he said. "The next year I was skating so much better. My skating was really good the next year and then I realized it was the blades."
Lehtera gets his skate blades at the beginning of the season and uses one set per game. The plan is for when he gets through half of them to send the used blades back to Finland so his friend can sharpen them and send them back to him.
However, his parents recently came for a visit to St. Louis and brought more blades with them.
His routine, though, might be changing.
Lehtera wants to give some of his used blades to the Blues equipment staff to sharpen so he can test them out in an optional practice on an off day. If he likes the feel of the blades after they're sharpened by a Blues staff member he will stop shipping the blades back to Finland.
He'd prefer that.
"They can do good work too. They're pros too," he said. "I would love to do it like that because this way is a pain. It helps my game, but it's pain."
Lehtera's game has so far impressed Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who got to know Lehtera from scouting him at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where Lehtera won the bronze medal playing for Finland.
He has seven points on two goals and five assists, including a beautiful and deft drop pass in the slot that setup Jay Bouwmeester for his game-tying goal at 14:33 of the third period Monday against the New York Rangers.
"Jori made a real good play just hanging onto the puck," Bouwmeester said. "I don't think anyone expected him to drop it like that, but he's been making plays like that. He's been really good for us."
Perhaps most importantly for the Blues, Lehtera has rekindled his chemistry with former KHL teammate and linemate Vladimir Tarasenko, who has six goals in the past eight games.
"I knew when he was in the Olympics he started as a fourth-line left winger and ended up as a second center. He was the No. 1 or 2 center in the World Championship," Hitchcock said. "I knew as a player who moved up the ladder during competition that he was going to find a place somewhere in our top-nine. I didn't know if it would be a one, a two or a three, but I knew on moxie and competitiveness that he was going to find a place on our hockey club.
"I don't judge the KHL because it's a different game, it's a technical game, but when I watched him in the Worlds and the Olympics, he killed penalties, played on the power play, so I knew he was going to find a place somewhere for us."