Jari Kurri’s story is one Oiler fans are told from childhood: the entire NHL figured he was not headed to the NHL, save for one man (Barry Fraser). If not for that decision–to play instead of stay–Kurri would have been drafted much earlier and would not have been part of the glory days.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
PRE-DRAFT AWARDS AND HONORS
Olympics: 1980 (fourth place)
World Junior Championships: 1979 (fourth), 1980 (silver)
European Junior Championships: 1978 (gold medal)
European Junior Championships Best Forward: 1978
World Junior Championships Points Leader: 1980 (11 points, tie)
Miscellaneous: Scored in second overtime vs. Soviet Union to give Finland the 1978 European Junior Championships gold medal. Kurri was expected to sign two-year commitment to Finnish national team and military in 1980, thereby hurting his status in draft. Edmonton was the only team that knew Kurri would not sign such a commitment and would rather play in the NHL, because chief scout Barry Fraser looked into situation and knew Kurri was available. Ironically, Kurri originally planned to play only one or two seasons in the NHL before return to Finland.
Jari Kurri spoke no English the day he arrived in Edmonton. In his rookie season was most often seen with countrymen Risto Siltanen and Matti Hagman. Kurri was shy, and took some time to adjust that first season–he was a healthy scratch due to defensive weaknesses (real or imagined). At that time–this was 1980–European players still lived with the reputation that they lacked toughness and attention to the finer points of the game. I say this because Jari Kurri was one of the men who ended the bias with exceptional play away from the puck as his NHL career wore on.
It was not certain that Jari Kurri would play with Gretzky. Glen Sather, 1980 fall: "I’ve got to get Gretzky someone to play with" and that was at a time when Kurri was on 99’s wing! It would all work out though, and by the end of Kurri’s rookie season "Gretzky to Kurri" had been written in the record book many times (and vice versa). Whatever chemistry Gretzky enjoyed with MacDonald and Callighen in year one, the Gretzky-Kurri duo quickly rose to elite status and remains the most sublime marriage of skills in the game’s history.
For me, the most memorable goal in Oilers history is not the shot over Vernon, not the McClelland goal, not the Anderson goal. It is a Wayne Gretzky goal, spring 1984 in G5 against the Islanders at Northlands. Here’s the play:
- Dave Semenko has the puck deep in Islanders territory and the big man is doing well against two Islanders but eventually loses the battle. Its time for a shift change, and when Ken Morrow gets the puck up to Pat Flatley, the NYI winger gets to center, dumps it in and ignites a line change (save for a forechecking Islander who does not impact the play).
- That’s a change teams made then and they make it now. One guy shoots it in, peels off, the other forward pursues the puck to delay possession (or hinder progress) and the rest of the team changes on the fly.
- Charlie Huddy and the Islander forechecker make contact and skate by the puck. It lays in the far corner for an instant, until Jari Kurri gains control, sets himself, and feathers a perfect pass to Wayne Gretzky.
- Gretzky–a gentleman often described as too slow by NHL greybeards only a few years before–takes the pass, gears up and wins the blueline with no one between himself and Billy Smith. 99 wasn’t brilliant on the breakaway, but the hockey Gods smiled on him that night and he went wide and slid the puck past Smith for the lead Edmonton would not surrender until Stanley belonged to the Oilers for the first time.
Simple play. Hard work, intelligence, awareness, sublime passing skill. Jari Kurri described perfectly in the biggest game in franchise history.
- Hockey Hall of Fame, 2001
- 5 Stanley Cups: 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990
- Lady Byng, 1985
- 1st All-Star Team, 1985 and 1987
- 2nd All-Star Team, 1984, 1986 and 1989
- 6-100 point seasons
- 4-50 goal seasons
- lead NHL in goals, 85-86 (68 goals)
Jari Kurri left us in phases. Shortly after the 1990 SC run, Kurri announced that he had signed in Italy (!!!) so that he could be available for the 1991 World Hockey Championships (which were being held in Finland that year). In what might be termed a "reverse Ryan Smyth", Kurri passed on the opportunity to add a 6th SC ring in order to secure his availability for the WHC’s. In 1991 spring, he announced that he would return to the NHL, especially if he had the opportunity to play with Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles.
On May 30, 1991, Edmonton traded Kurri, Dave Brown and Corey Foster to Philadelphia in exchange for Craig Fisher, Scott Mellanby and Craig Berube. Philadelphia then traded Kurri and Jeff Chychrun to Los Angeles in exchange for Steve Duchesne, Steve Kasper and 1991 fourth-round pick (Aris Brimanis) on May 30, 1991.
Playing the majority of his career both with Wayne Gretzky and in Gretzky’s shadow as his so called, "Right-hand Man," Jari Pekka Kurri was considered by many to be perhaps the best defensive forward in the NHL. His two-way abilities were the perfect complement for his hard, accurate shooting and scoring proficiency. Jari Kurri finished his career as the highest scoring European-born player in NHL history with totals of 601 goals, 797 assists, and 1,398 points. He also finished with 106 career PLAYOFF goals and 233 PLAYOFF points, third all-time behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. While he wasn’t the flashiest player, Kurri was consistent and this ability alone enabled him to become an icon for thousands of fans and young players, both in Finland and throughout North America.
Number 17, Jari Kurri. The youngest Finn has had a spectacular season. On the ice, he has clearly staked out for himself the coveted place on Gretzky’s right wing–and he had done so even before B. J. MacDonald’s departure. He has accumulated 75 scoring points, which, while still 89 short of Gretzky’s incredible total, still ranks 2nd on the team. He is so much at home in NHL play that in Hartford, when he scored his 28th goal of the year, he actually did a little dance, raising one knee and punching the air with his fist. Even more amazingly, after that game he gave his first interview in English.
Much of the credit for his new extroversion belongs to his roommate, Paul Coffey, who night after night plays card with him and painstakingly works on vocabulary skills. The Oilers publicity department would have people believe that Kurri has been learning his English from Happy Days, but both he and Coffey prefer game shows.