Flyers files: Defending the overpriced, yet under-appreciated Jori Lehtera

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This city loves to hate. No matter the level of success of the team, there is always a player that MUST be targeted and MUST be used as a scapegoat to not achieving greatness. In my time, I’ve watched countless players get thrown under the bus for a bad game, an injury, a misconstrued quote in the paper, a contract negotiation, and even personal attacks on foreign players. Most of these comments are made at an attempt at humor, but I believe it comes from the underlying negativity that runs through this city. Currently, Jori Lehtera has found himself as the next target of the Philadelphia irrational fan mob. But is it warranted? Outside of having a large contract for a 4th line player, Jori has had a large breadth of experience in the NHL and has done an admirable job keeping his place in the league at a time when speed is the name of the game. Lethera does this by paying attention to the little details that might not make him an impact player, but it also guarantees a certain level of consistency most young players cannot mimic.

Early in this season Lethera, along with his linemates Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl, have played very well against their competition. However, there is a common consensus that Lethera is not part of that comradery or simply a benefactor of playing with more skilled players. I would argue against that vemently and state that he has a been a big reason the forececk on the PK has improved and his ability to be a big body that is in the right place at the right time has made some key contributions to stopping goals or punishing players for their efforts.. His success in the NHL actually reminds me a lot of Michael Raffl, who has slowly fallen to 4th line duties over the past several years. And similar to Raffl playing wing for Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, Lethera received his large contract playing center with elite players Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. I don’t believe he ever received that role because he was a legitimate top 6 forward. I believe he earned that role doing the little things right that other younger players weren’t able to produce on a nightly basis. His consistency allowed his linemates to push the envelope knowing that Lethera would keep things simple. Do I believe Lethera is a player that is part of the future of this team? No, but I do believe every team needs role players with size, composure, and leadership who can be serviceable in times of need.

 

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Fans in Philadelphia seem to turn on players that are not being put in a position to succeed or put in a position where they are clearly outmatched. Players like Andrew MacDonald suffer a similar fate, as he is constantly matched up against elite players, but he really should only be playing against middle to bottom 6 forwards in the league. He is slightly overpaid, but he is a solid two-way defender for the bottom pairing. I imagine the Flyers will look to move him down the lineup as players like Travis Sanheim, Phillip Myers, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, and Mark Friedman gain experience. Players like Lethera and MacDonald are used to protect other players from early career woes and quite frankly, the fans. They’re usually the ones sent out to block shots on every Penalty Kill. They’re the ones who get faceoffs in their own zone and have to battle their way out. Where younger players will get more opportunities to succeed and tend to start in most of their shifts in the offensive zone.

Currently, the Flyers have the luxury of having four large centermen down the middle with Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Misha Vorobyev, and Jori Lehtera. Having Lethera on the 4th line means the Flyers can keep Nolan Patrick and Vorobyev from playing roles they are not prepared for. Even if Lethera isn’t the best at what he does, he is consistent enough that the players around him can rely on what he can do.

This season Jori Lehtera has looked very serviceable and at times I catch myself wondering if it’s really him that won the battle along the boards or manages to catch a player on the back-check. Lethera has struggled with some lower back injuries over the recent years and it has vastly hampered his skating ability. However, with the breakthroughs in inflammatory based injuries, we might be the seeing healthiest version of him in the three years. I believe Lethera earned his spot on this team and if he can continue his effectiveness the Flyers will keep him in his role all season or even look to trade him as a rental if the team find they no longer need his services.

Personally, I do not believe that there are many players who do not have value. I believe most NHL athletes bring something unique to the game, otherwise they would’ve never made the jump to the NHL in the first place. Plenty of players have talent, but it’s the little details that keeps a player’s game consistent enough gain the coaches trust. And just like any key to success, it comes with consistent effort not just a moment of greatness.

 

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

By Yariv Wolok (Twitter: @Ywolok)

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