TOP 100 OILERS: JANNE NIINIMAA (53)

Niinimaa

If the Edmonton Oilers want to help bump blue chip prospect Jesse Puljujarvi along the learning curve that faces all NHL prospects, especially those who are making the transition from Europe, they should fly Janne Niinimaa into town and let the former Oiler and fellow Finn spend a couple of weeks with the kid to show him the ropes.

Niinimaa loved, or so it seemed, every minute and every one of the 399 regular season games he played with the Oilers over the parts of six seasons he spent here. He loved the city, and he showed it by playing the best hockey of his NHL career here after arriving from the Philadelphia Flyers in March of 1998. And the city loved him, despite a style of play that earned the noted metal head the nickname Spaz.

Janne Niinimaa

Defense

Born May 22 1975 — Raahe, Finland 


Height 6.01 — Weight 220 [185 cm/100 kg]

Drafted by Philadelphia Flyers

Round 2 #36 overall 1993 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S%

ATOI

1996-97

21

PHI

77

4

40

44

12

58

2.8

1997-98

22

TOT

77

4

39

43

13

62

3.0

1997-98

22

PHI

66

3

31

34

6

56

2.6

1997-98

22

EDM

11

1

8

9

7

6

5.3

1998-99

23

EDM

81

4

24

28

7

88

2.8

23:54

1999-00

24

EDM

81

8

25

33

14

89

6.0

24:28

2000-01

25

EDM

82

12

34

46

6

90

9.8

25:20

2001-02

26

EDM

81

5

39

44

13

80

4.2

26:02

2002-03

27

TOT

76

5

29

34

-9

80

5.0

26:09

2002-03

27

EDM

63

4

24

28

-7

66

4.4

26:48

2002-03

27

NYI

13

1

5

6

-2

14

9.1

23:02

2003-04

28

NYI

82

9

19

28

12

64

9.3

23:15

2005-06

30

TOT

63

3

13

16

-12

86

6.1

19:46

2005-06

30

NYI

41

1

9

10

-7

62

4.3

20:30

2005-06

30

DAL

22

2

4

6

-5

24

7.7

18:25

2006-07

31

MTL

41

0

3

3

-13

36

0.0

14:51

6 yrs

EDM

399

34

154

188

40

419

5.4

25:14

3 yrs

NYI

136

11

33

44

3

140

8.4

22:24

2 yrs

PHI

143

7

71

78

18

114

2.7

1 yr

DAL

22

2

4

6

-5

24

7.7

18:25

1 yr

MTL

41

0

3

3

-13

36

0.0

14:51

Career

741

54

265

319

43

733

5.1

23:36

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S%

ATOI

1996-97

21

PHI

19

1

12

13

3

16

1.8

1997-98

22

EDM

11

1

1

2

3

12

5.0

1998-99

23

EDM

4

0

0

0

-2

2

0.0

28:16

1999-00

24

EDM

5

0

2

2

1

2

0.0

21:39

2000-01

25

EDM

6

0

2

2

-1

6

0.0

28:33

2002-03

27

NYI

5

0

1

1

-4

12

0.0

23:32

2003-04

28

NYI

5

1

2

3

-2

2

25.0

24:31

2005-06

30

DAL

4

0

1

1

0

8

0.0

14:07

Career

59

3

21

24

-2

60

2.6

23:46

NOTABLE

Niinimaa was a quirky sort, but he was also one of the most likeable guys I’ve ever met in an NHL dressing room. He used to drive equipment man Barrie Stafford to distraction because he was so particular about his skates and his equipment. It seemed like at least once a day Niinimaa would shout, “Staffy,” summoning him from the back because something didn’t fit quite right or the grind on his blades seemed off.

Niinimaa’s love for death-metal and speed-metal — his playlist included bands like Cradle of Filth and Cannibal Corpse – was legendary and cause for debate with teammates who didn’t have the same affection for the equivalent of slasher movies on CD and who damn sure didn’t want it on the dressing room boom box. He was pals with the guys in Metallica, for the times when he wanted something he considered easy listening.

For reporters, he was a go-to quote. When things went off the rails for the Oilers, fairly often at the hands of Niinimaa himself, he was as brutally honest a player as you’d find. “That was unacceptable. That was just bullshit,” he’d declare while spitting tobacco juice into a cup. Gold. More important than all that, Niinimaa was a helluva player during his time in Edmonton, playing tough minutes, running the power play and, occasionally, making the highlight reels with plays that seemed like absolute genius and blunders that made you laugh out loud.

THE STORY

There was an overlap when the Oilers boasted Niinimaa, Boris Mironov and Roman Hamrlik on the back end. A wealth of riches, compared to the crew that’s manned the blue line in recent years. I always thought Niinimaa was the best of the three. Bobo was more flamboyant and Hamrlik was likely a bit better in his own end, but Niinimaa had things going on at both ends of the rink – usually for the better, but occasionally for worse.

In the time Niinimaa played here, he twice surpassed the 40-point mark and finished with 188 points. He averaged 25:14 per game in ice time. He played first-pairing minutes, always took on the toughest match-ups with opposing forwards and kept the power play ticking, even if his own guys sometimes had to wonder where that shot from the point was going.

How much did Niinimaa love playing here? A couple winters back he flew in from Finland to take part in the World’s Longest Hockey Game at Brent Saik’s acreage in Sherwood Park – not for a guest cameo, for the long haul. The big Finn had just as big a smile on his face then as he wheeled around effortlessly with frozen toes as he did dancing on the Oiler blue line with Bobo and Hammer. He’d be a great chaperone for Puljujarvi.

This series will look at the top 100 Edmonton Oilers from the NHL era 1979-80 to 2014-15, starting with 100 and working up. 


Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

PREVIOUSLY:

  • DonEnrico

    Apparently he seems to be a really likeable guy. He spent a couple of seasons on my team here in Sweden (HV71) and all the reporters (and fans) loved him here too…

    And as you said Robin, the Oilers should spend a couple of bucks to get him to be tourguide for Jesse for a while (although I think Niinimaa is a reporter for finnish TV nowadays…)

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    How on earth did the oilers land a complete defenseman with a 44 point rookie season? Holy crap. Apparently Slats was also a magician.

    I remember liking Dan Mcgillis but I also remember being real happy with the trade.

  • LibrarianMike

    I remember him with the puck at the blue line as the other team had a delayed penalty. The Oilers goalie was at the bench for the extra attacker, and what does Niiniimaa do? Throws the puck back to his own end and into the net. I loved him, but man was he a heart attack out there.

  • His anti highlight reel tape from Dallas Stars games is just (whatever the opposite of awe inspiring is). The evil big D was Janne’s kryptonite.

    He was great, Saw him at lots of metal shows in edmonton during his time here, small dingy clubs full of we the sloth element, and heres this big affable Fin, smiling away. I believe that brain dead gazelle of a D man Pitkinin had similar room music issues with team mates. Penner with the rap/techno stuff and Pitkinin with the Children of Bodum.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I missed the 80s and the dynasty (did catch the 90 cup though).

    What I liked most about the Oilers team from 1998 to 2006 was that while they weren’t the best team they were likeable and they were ours.

    Janne epitomizes this. Miss those years.

    • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

      Likable and hard working… Those oilers are pretty much the polar opposite of today’s oilers. Back then the oil were filled with real talent up top (management) and were forced to make due with other teams reclamation projects.

      For years slats maintained on ice value by buying low, developing properly, and selling high. No other way could they be anywhere near a .500 team while continually losing assets.

  • LibrarianMike

    My other big memory of Niiniimaa is a newspaper story one year around Thanksgiving. Apparently he sat Tommy Salo down and had to explain that he needed to actually cook his turkey before eating it “because…you know, he’s a Swede”.

  • FireScorpion

    Fly Niinimaa in to be a mentor? Yeah right this is a team that let their heart and soul Ryan Smyth leave bawling and blubbering ( he made more of a scene than LeBron) over a couple hundred grand.

    Always class in Coiltown

  • BobbyCanuck

    We have a retired Fin who is already on the payroll…I recall he was not to bad, and considered a 200 ft player, I know some of you think he was just riding the coattails of the greatest player to ever play the game (facetious)…maybe ask him to mentor the lad

  • ubermiguel

    I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the trio of Niinimaa, Mironov and Hamrlik. They were all flawed players, but looking back over the last 10 years I was too critical of them and wish we had more like them today.

  • njdevilsfan_!7

    The best off ice memory was from when The Bear used to have a metal show, The Hard Attack, once a week and and Niinimaa took over hosting one time and played all kinds of awesome metal from his personal cd collection.