Dallas Stars' wing Jere Lehtinen has played in the NHL only since 1995, but he has already made his mark as one of the league's best two-way players. On a team replete with superstars, Lehtinen might not be the top goal scorer or the hardest hitter or flashiest player, but he is widely acknowledged by teammates and Stars coach Ken Hitchcock (now with Philadelphia) as the 'glue' that holds the team's top line of him, Brett Hull (now with Detroit) and Mike Modano together.
With Hull's arrival to the Stars, there was some initial confusion about where Lehtinen would play on the line with him and Modano, since prior to that Lehtinen had been a right winger. But the presence of two right-handers on the team's top line made a switch necessary for coach Hitchcock. Luckily, however, Lehtinen agreed to switch to the left to accommodate Hull.
The Stars players and coaches are not the only ones who recognize Lehtinen's contributions, though. In 2003 he won the Selke award as the NHL's best defensive forward for the third time in a row, a feat accomplished by only two other players, Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau.
Internationally, Lehtinen, who was originally the Minnesota North Stars' third pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, 88th overall, represented Finland at the 1993 World Juniors, and was his country's top scorer in that event. He played on the Finnish Olympic team in 1994 and in 1998 and was a big part of the team's bronze medal-winning performance in Nagano, tying for seventh overall and third on his team in that NHL-led tournament. Lehtinen has also competed in two World Championships, in 1995 and 1996, and led the Finns to their first World victory in 1995.
One of the reasons Dallas made it through to two consecutive Stanley Cup finals in 1999 and 2000 was that Lehtinen thrives on playoff hockey. Lehtinen made his third Olympic appearance at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and after the departure of Ken Hitchcock from the Stars in 2002-03, Lehtinen and the Stars were given more of an opportunity to play an offensive oriented game under new head coach Dave Tippett. Lehtinen responded with a career-high 31 goals.
Comming off a strong season in 2002-03, Lehtinen was limited to a mere 58 games in 2003-04 and was desperately missed by the Stars. Although, Lehtinen and the Stars were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the three-time Selke winner represented his homeland in the second annual World Cup of Hockey.