VOORHEES, N.J. – It was 11:01 a.m. and there was Jori Lehtera skating around the Skate Zone ice just like any other day.
Of course, this wasn’t really your average practice session because it was the first time the Finnish center had been seen in uniform since word broke Wednesday of possible legal issues back in his home country.
In short, authorities staged a raid last summer on a house owned by Lehtera, arrested at least seven people and confiscated two kilograms of cocaine and approximately $700,000 in jewelry.
The 30-year-old Lehtera was not arrested and it was later reported he denied having anything to do with a suspected drug ring. He was not home at the time of the raid.
General manager Ron Hextall said on Wednesday that he could not comment on Lehtera’s status, possibly because of an ongoing investigation.
He did say, however, that it was his job, the coach’s job and the players’ job not to let the whole thing become a distraction to the team.
After Friday’s practice, Lehtera basically echoed Hextall’s “no comment’’ remarks.
“I was asked by Finnish police not to say anything,’’ Lehtera said. “I’m going to respect that.’’
He was asked if this matter could possibly affect his standing with the Flyers or the NHL.
“Well, I’m here right now competing for a spot on the team,’’ he said. “That’s how it’s going to be.’’
Lehtera, acquired in the June, 2017 trade with St. Louis along with a first-round draft pick (Morgan Frost) for Brayden Schenn, is in the second year of a three-year contract which pays him a total of $14.1 million.
Can he put this behind him and focus on hockey?
“I think I can do that,’’ he said. “You guys are going to see that I haven’t done anything wrong.’’
Lehtera said he was happy with his training camp before all this came out.
“I felt good,’’ he said. “I knew the team was expecting more of me (he had only three goals in 64 games last season) about my role here.
“So it was easier to come into camp this year than last year. It (battle for a job) is about the same as last year. I just have to do the best I can. I think that’s enough.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol indicated Lehtera is still in the team’s plans.
“He was back in the line-up today in the fourth-line center position,’’ Hakstol said. “He does a heck of a job there. If he’s in the game tomorrow night, he’s going to get an opportunity to go into that role and that’s going to be an important role.’’
Team-building in Vail
The Flyers will head out west a couple days early to do some team-building exercises in Vail, Colorado.
According to the schedule, the Flyers will be off Sunday, fly to Vail for team exercises on Monday and then practice there on Tuesday before heading over to Las Vegas for a Wednesday practice prior to the season opener on Thursday.
The Flyers sent forwards Tyrell Goulbourne and Carsen Twarynski back to the Phantoms on Friday, reducing their roster to 31. Also, the Flyers announced center Pascal Laberge has undergone hip surgery.
The final round of cuts could come on Sunday or Monday, depending on the return of some injured players.