Some interesting news came out of St. Louis recently, as one of their prospects, center Jori Lehtera, opted to take a two-year deal to play in the KHL. He had spent the past three years there, and at the age of 25, it doesn't look like L...
Some interesting news came out of St. Louis recently, as one of their prospects, center Jori Lehtera, opted to take a two-year deal to play in the KHL. He had spent the past three years there, and at the age of 25, it doesn't look like Lehetra is going to be part of the Blues' future. According to their general manager, Doug Armstrong:
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained.He didn’t want to play in the NHL. We offered him a seven-figure, one-way deal but his comfort level is in the KHL. I’m glad that if he doesn’t want to be here, he’s not here. We offered to bring him over here when his KHL season was over. He was coming off a head injury, I understood that. He didn’t think his conditioning was there, I understood that. (But) he had given me every indication that he wanted to play in the NHL. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if we were just a bargaining chip for him to use with the KHL and he never wanted to come over. But I was under the impression from he and his agent that the NHL is where he wanted to be. Something happened where it’s not where he wanted to be."
That's interesting because, according to Armstrong, Lehtera was part of the team's future plans:
"Yeah, he was a playmaking centerman that we thought would add to our team. If we could have improved with him, we would have. We can’t, so now we’ve got to find out if there’s a way to improve with a player like that. If not, we’ve got to put the feet to the fire of the guys that are coming back."
The Blues also have four very tantalizing players hitting restricted free agency at the same time: Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund. Armstrong has already made it clear that the Blues will match any offer sheets they get for each player.
The real question, though, is whether they would be willing to move one of them for the playmaking center they're looking to add. Say, perhaps, Mika Zibanejad?
Zibanejad presents an interesting problem for the Senators, as he began to show flashes of the center he could be when an injury to Jason Spezza opened up minutes for Zibanejad on the second line--Kyle Turris moved up to take Spezza's spot.
However, when Spezza returned in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Turris flourished in the best spot on the team while Zibanejad struggled centering a third line alongside Z. Smith and Chris Neil. Things did not improve when Neil was swapped out for shooter Jakob Silfverberg in game 5, and Zibanejad ultimately finished with no points in five games. Ultimately, despite his size and good defensive awareness, Zibanejad is probably not suited for a checking role--he needs to be playing in the top six.
Except this isn't an option in Ottawa right now. Zibanejad is not going to oust Spezza or Turris for one of the top two center positions, and that means if he's going to play those minutes, it's going to be on the wing. This suits the Senators just fine, as Z. Smith has already demonstrated he is a fine bottom-six center, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau appears poised to make the leap to the NHL next year--he already beat out Peter Regin and Jim O`Brien to take the fourth center position after almost starting the year in the ECHL. A good offseason (combined with this year's good audition) should give him inside track on that role next season, and it's not inconceivable that he could supplant Z. Smith on the third line.
So, at the moment, it's the wing or nothing for Zibanejad, which means he could be made available to a team looking for a playmaking center. Could he be a good enough chip to get the Blues to move a player? If so, who?
#21 / Center / St. Louis Blues
Born: Jun 02, 1988
Has a huge frame, outstanding offensive instincts and game-changing ability. Is a wizard with the puck. His wrister is top-