If you were surprised to see the Blues re-sign former draft pick Jori Lehtera on Tuesday, that was the team's plan.
"We've been working on this for a while ... but we've been trying to keep it a little bit under wraps not to get anyone's hopes up," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound center, who is now 26 years old, was drafted by the Blues in the third round in 2008. But since then, the only sighting of Lehtera had been seven playoff games with the Peoria Rivermen in 2009.
Despite showing a willingness at that time to make the transition to North America and the NHL game, Lehtera, who is from Helsinki, Finland, has remained in Europe the past five years. He spent one season in the Finnish League and the last four in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
In 2012-13, Lehtera netted 17 goals and 46 points in 52 games with Novosibirsk, leading the Blues to once again express their interest in bringing him to St. Louis. But Lehtera declined, re-signing in Russia, and thus the team was forced into signing center Derek Roy.
The idea of Lehtera ever putting on a Blues' uniform seemed remote.
Then this summer, Armstrong, who is an executive with Team Canada's men's Olympic team, spoke with Lehtera, a member of the Finnish national team, at the Olympics in Sochi.
"I had a good chat with him quite honestly at the Olympics at the dining hall," Armstrong said. "I told him that we were disappointed that we couldn't come to an agreement and he said at the end of the day, he felt he made a mistake (staying in Russia)."
Armstrong said that was the first step. He remembered telling Lehtera, "Well, if you can rectify that mistake, if you can get our of your contract, we'd love to have you.'"
The Blues kept the situation quiet, not only to prevent false hopes among their fanbase but also to allow him time to address his contract situation in Russia.
"We'd been dealing with the competition of the KHL and the KHL has been winning up until this year," Armstrong said. "He was able to get his way out of his contract."
NHL teams control players' rights until they turn 27, and with Lehtera six months away from his 27th birthday, the timing was perfect for the Blues.
"In the sense that if he had gone back, he'd be an unrestricted free agent at 27," Armstrong said. "So this was our last and only opportunity to deal with him with no outside competition."
The Blues signed him to a two-year contract worth $5.5 million. Lehtera could have signed a one-year contract and then become an unrestricted free-agent, but the two sides opted for two years, which cost the club a little extra money.
"We bought one year of restricted free agency and one year of unrestricted," Armstrong said.
But the Blues believe Lehtera is worth it. He had 153 (55 goals, 98 assists) in 178 games in the KHL, after posting 170 points (47 goals, 123 assists) in 197 games in Finland.
At this year's World Championships, Lehtera had three goals and 12 points in 10 games for Finland. At the Olympics, he netted one goal and four points in six games.
The Blues have already penciled him in to center Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, who played with Lehtera in the KHL during the NHL lockout in 2012-13.
"He's a big body, 6-2, 210 — very, very soft hands, a very good passer," Armstrong said. "He's a guy that can find players. I watched him at the World Championships give some guys some back-door tap ins on the power play. He's just an offensive players where his strengths are his passing skills.
"Having the opportunity to watch him play at the Olympics firsthand, watching all his games at the World Championships, talking to people I know from the Finnish Federation, there's very little question he's ready to step in and be a contributing factor in the NHL."