Lehtonen welcomes trade to Stars

Updated: February 10, 2010, 6:17 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

Newly acquired Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen said his back feels good and that he's excited to play in Dallas.

"I feel like it's a big opportunity for me," Lehtonen said by phone Wednesday afternoon, shortly after he passed his physical. "I had some rough times in Atlanta and some good times. But now I can start from a clean sheet, and I just need to do well and play well and that's what I believe I can do."

The Stars traded for Lehtonen, 26, on Tuesday night, sending defenseman prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round draft pick in 2010 to the Atlanta Thrashers.

Lehtonen, who is making $3 million, hasn't played in the NHL this season. He's been recovering from two back surgeries he underwent last offseason to repair a herniated disk.

He is a restricted free agent, and Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said Tuesday the deal gives the club someone it knows can be in goal for the 2010-11 season.

Goalies Marty Turco and Alex Auld are unrestricted free agents.

"He was drafted second overall [in 2002] for a reason, and he's an elite goaltender when healthy," Nieuwendyk said. "Now that he's on the right path, we're going to get a guy that's about to enter the prime of his career."

Lehtonen, whose best season was 2006-07, when he won 34 games and had a 2.79 goals-against average, said his back didn't act up while he played in four games for Chicago in the AHL as part of a conditioning assignment.

"I do feel good right now," Lehtonen said. "The last two years I've battling with this back issue and hopefully now it's behind me and it's something that I can't worry too much, because if I start thinking about if something is going to happen, I'm not focusing on the right things like stopping the puck."

Lehtonen said pinched nerves and the herniated disk caused numbness to run down his left leg last season. The first surgery, last summer, didn't correct the problem. So in the fall, Lehtonen had another operation.

"They took more bone and other things out that were pushing the nerves and after that, it's been very good," Lehtonen said. "It took a long time because I needed to get the strength back in my leg."

Lehtonen is a tall goalie -- 6-foot-4 -- and said he has a butterfly style.

"I go down a lot and try to be in the right place and the right time and use my frame to block the shots," Lehtonen said. "I think that's about it."

He compared his style to that of Carolina's Cam Ward and Montreal's Carey Price.

"I have a patient style and try not to do too many crazy things," Lehtonen said.

Lehtonen is scheduled to have dinner Wednesday with Nieuwendyk to discuss his role with the team. He is not expected to play in the Stars' two remaining games before the NHL takes its two-week hiatus for the Winter Olympics.

Richard Durrett covers the Dallas Stars for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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