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Top 100 Oilers: Esa Tikkanen (8)

Esa Tikkanen was a go-to guy in so many ways for Glen Sather during a tenure that saw him win four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers — he’d score big goals, excel in a checking role and drive opponents to distraction because he’d never shut the hell up. Not so much if you were a reporter toting a notepad or a microphone in search of a juicy quote before deadline during the glory days of the Boys on the Bus.

What you got then was Tikky Talk, some kind of gibberish in-between Finnish and, well, I’m not really sure, that left scribes bewildered and even drew nods of disbelief from countrymen like Jari Kurri. Some examples of Tikkanese here and here. When it came to the universal language of hockey, though, the abrasive and talented Finn opponents called the Grate One had the jargon down pat. What a helluva player Tikkanen was.

Esa Tikkanen

Left Wing
Born Jan 25 1965 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6.01 — Weight 200 [185 cm/91 kg]

Drafted by Edmonton Oilers

Round 4 #80 overall 1983 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

Awards

1985-86

21

EDM

35

7

6

13

5

28

44

15.9

1986-87

22

EDM

76

34

44

78

44

120

126

27.0

AS-3
1987-88

23

EDM

80

23

51

74

21

153

142

16.2

1988-89

24

EDM

67

31

47

78

10

92

151

20.5

AS-5,Selke-2
1989-90

25

EDM

79

30

33

63

17

161

199

15.1

AS-10,Selke-3
1990-91

26

EDM

79

27

42

69

22

85

235

11.5

AS-4,Selke-2
1991-92

27

EDM

40

12

16

28

-8

44

117

10.3

1992-93

28

TOT

81

16

24

40

-24

94

202

7.9

1992-93

28

EDM

66

14

19

33

-11

76

162

8.6

1992-93

28

NYR

15

2

5

7

-13

18

40

5.0

1993-94

29

NYR

83

22

32

54

5

114

257

8.6

Selke-15
1994-95

30

STL

43

12

23

35

13

22

107

11.2

Selke-2
1995-96

31

TOT

58

14

30

44

1

36

95

14.7

1995-96

31

STL

11

1

4

5

1

18

19

5.3

1995-96

31

NJD

9

0

2

2

-6

4

15

0.0

1995-96

31

VAN

38

13

24

37

6

14

61

21.3

1996-97

32

TOT

76

13

17

30

-9

72

133

9.8

1996-97

32

VAN

62

12

15

27

-9

66

103

11.7

1996-97

32

NYR

14

1

2

3

0

6

30

3.3

1997-98

33

TOT

48

3

18

21

-11

18

67

4.5

1997-98

33

FLA

28

1

8

9

-7

16

34

2.9

1997-98

33

WSH

20

2

10

12

-4

2

33

6.1

1998-99

34

NYR

32

0

3

3

-5

38

25

0.0

8 yrs EDM

522

178

258

436

100

759

1176

15.1

4 yrs NYR

144

25

42

67

-13

176

352

7.1

2 yrs STL

54

13

27

40

14

40

126

10.3

2 yrs VAN

100

25

39

64

-3

80

164

15.2

1 yr FLA

28

1

8

9

-7

16

34

2.9

1 yr NJD

9

0

2

2

-6

4

15

0.0

1 yr WSH

20

2

10

12

-4

2

33

6.1

Career

877

244

386

630

81

1077

1900

12.8

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

1984-85

20

EDM

3

0

0

0

-1

2

3

0.0

1985-86

21

EDM

8

3

2

5

1

7

19

15.8

1986-87

22

EDM

21

7

2

9

1

22

39

17.9

1987-88

23

EDM

19

10

17

27

2

72

42

23.8

1988-89

24

EDM

7

1

3

4

-1

12

17

5.9

1989-90

25

EDM

22

13

11

24

12

26

54

24.1

1990-91

26

EDM

18

12

8

20

3

24

76

15.8

1991-92

27

EDM

16

5

3

8

-1

8

37

13.5

1993-94

29

NYR

23

4

4

8

1

34

56

7.1

1994-95

30

STL

7

2

2

4

-1

20

19

10.5

1995-96

31

VAN

6

3

2

5

-3

2

13

23.1

1996-97

32

NYR

15

9

3

12

2

26

45

20.0

1997-98

33

WSH

21

3

3

6

-2

20

23

13.0

Career

186

72

60

132

13

275

443

16.3

NOTABLE

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I’ve got to admit, the first time I tried to interview Tikkanen – it was a post-game scramble during the 1990 playoffs – I thought I was having a stroke because I didn’t understand a single word he said. All that was missing as I stood there looking befuddled was the smell of burnt coffee. A knowing grin from colleague Jim Matheson sent me elsewhere looking for something I could make sense of. I was not alone.

“He brings something special,” Wayne Gretzky once said of the unique language Tikkanen spoke. “I don’t know what it is, but if you ask him, you couldn’t understand his answer.” Or, as former teammate Craig MacTavish put it, “Esa talks twice as much as anybody else. That’s because you can understand just half what he says.” Watch Tikkanen play, though, and there was no confusion.

Put on left wing with Gretzky and Kurri when he first arrived in Edmonton from HIFK Helsinki, Tikkanen could play the game any way you wanted. During a stretch from 1986-87 to 1990-91, Tikkanen scored 30-or-more goals three times and at the same time finished among the top-three in voting for the Franke Selke Trophy as top defensive forward three times. He could score. For opposing forwards, he was a skating set of hand-cuffs – yapping handcuffs. Gretzky got a taste of that in the 1990 and 1991 playoffs after he was traded to Los Angeles. Tikky stayed closer to him out on the ice than when they played together.

THE STORY

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What made Tikkanen so special is that he always seemed to find another level in the post-season, when games matter most. In the 1988 playoffs, he had 27 points in 19 games. In the 1990 post-season, with Gretzky gone, Tikkanen had 24 points in 22 games as the Oilers won their fifth Cup. In 1991, he had 20 points in 18 games, including this Game 7 overtime goal to eliminate the Calgary Flames in the first round. Tikky was post-season money.

Tikkanen still holds the record for the fastest two shorthanded goals by one player in a single game – 12 seconds, against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988. While Tikkanen never won the Selke Trophy, he was runner-up twice and finished in the top-five in voting four times. Tikkanen sits sixth in franchise playoff scoring with 97 points (he’s fifth in goals with 51).

In an era that would produce future HHOF players like Gretzky, Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr, Tikkanen played well down the marquee when it came to being a big name. Still, he was always a force – a big goal, another opposing forward checked to a standstill, another opponent taking a penalty for punching him in the mouth because he just wouldn’t shut the hell up. There was always clarity in Tikkanen’s actions, if not his words. 

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.

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