St. Louis Blues get Jori Lehtera, Robert Bortuzzo back in lineup

The St. Louis Blues will have two key players back on the ice on Thursday night for their final preseason game.

The St. Louis Blues will have two familiar faces back on the ice for Thursday’s preseason finale against the rival Chicago Blackhawks at Scottrade Center.

Center Jori Lehtera makes his preseason debut after missing time with an ankle injury, while defenseman Robert Bortuzzo returns from a lower-body injury. 

“I’m really excited,” Lehtera told reporters. “I haven’t skated for a while, so it’s nice to play in a game and I feel good about it.”

Lehtera signed a three-year contract extension this summer after his successful, albeit belated, debut season with the Blues last winter. 

The Blues’ third-round pick in 2008, Lehtera posted 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists) and a plus-21 rating in 75 regular-season games during the 2014-15 campaign and then added two assists in five playoff games. 

He had surgery on his right ankle on Aug. 4 and was expected to resume skating in six to eight weeks. He returned to the ice a few weeks ago, but has been working his way back into the mix in advance of Thursday’s preseason contest. 

The Blues traded former first-round pick Ian Cole to the Penguins to acquire Bortuzzo at the trade deadline last season and liked what they saw from the big, bruising d-man late in the year. 

They re-signed Bortuzzo this offseason after he accounted for two points (one goal, one assist) and 25 penalty minutes in 13 games for the Blues after the trade from Pittsburgh. 

“It’s kind of been a long haul here watching all the games and not being in there but I’m excited to join this group,” Bortuzzo told the Blues’ website. “It’s an exciting time of the year, so I’m looking forward to getting in there and contributing.”

Bortuzzo added that he wanted to get into a preseaosn game to help him get his feet under him.

“It’s probably not going to be perfect tonight — it’s been a long time since we’ve been in a game — but I’m confident in my abilities to get this game under my belt and then move forward through the next week and be ready for opening night,” the defenseman said.

Getting Lehtera and Bortuzzo back for the final preseason game should help them prepare for the beginning of the regular season a week later. It won’t be the same, of course, but it’s a positive step.

“The timing is going to be a little bit of an issue for them maybe through the first handful of games, but not much more than other guys as well,” Blues associate coach Brad Shaw said. “The pace of these games isn’t how we start the season, so everybody’s going to have to ramp things up again another notch to get to that first real game pace. It’s probably better to have three or four games under your belt, but to get at least one in I think is a big threshold to cross and it lets the next week be a good week of preparation as well.” 

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com


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