46 Days Until The Season Begins

Zach Laing
7 months ago
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane.
Jani Rita is the latest Oilers player on this list who had an extended cup of tea, but unlike others, the hopes for him were much higher.

A June 27th, 1999 edition of the Edmonton Journal details the Edmonton Oilers drafting Jani Rita 13th overall in the 1999 draft.


Those expectations came with the ground of being the Oilers’ 13th overall pick in the 1999 draft — the same draft that brought Mike Comrie to town, and the Sedin twins to Vancouver.
“Why do I like him? Because in our interview, I asked what he thought of the Sedin Twins,” Oilers general manager Glen Sather said at the draft. “He said he hated them. I liked that.”
Rita was selected out of the Finnish Elite League having split his draft year between there, and the Finnish Junior League. Most of his time, however, was spent with Jokerit’s big club where in 41 games he scored three goals and five points.
In the junior league, however, he saw a lot more success — at least scoring-wise — finding twine nine times adding 13 assists for 22 points in 20 games. Not bad. Not bad at all. Rita remained in Finland for two more seasons where his elite league numbers continued to climb.
Back when the Oilers took him, the word was that “nobody doubts he’ll be a player,” the Edmonton Journal said. But by the end of it all, things didn’t turn out so well.
Rita developed into more of checker than a sniper, but was known for having a good shot.
“Jani is going to be a real solid strong player on the puck,” then Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish told the Edmonton Journal. “At this point, he hasn’t shown that dynamic offence (Ales) Hemsky has, but he’s a guy who’s only 20 years old.
“He shoots the puck very well… He may be the compliment to a good playmakers. He may be a guy who as Mike (Comrie) evolves as a playmaker, might be a good fit for Mike.”
Rita would head to the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs for his first season of pro hockey where his offensive game would begin to flourish and find its way. In 76 games, Rita would score 25 goals and 42 points adding another eight tallies and 12 points in 15 playoff games. He would make his NHL debut on March 2nd, 2002 taking 10 shifts in a 1-1 tie with the St. Louis Blues.
While the 2002-03 season would see him once again play for the Bulldogs — a strong season, at that, scoring 21 goals and 48 points in 64 games — Rita would get a longer look in the NHL. He was recalled in late January for a six-game stint that saw him score his first NHL goal on January 1st, 2003, and would return again in February finding twine two more times. All in all, he scored three goals and four points in 12 games in his first true NHL look.
The problem? The organization was already having question marks about Rita.
In a June 1st, 2003 article in the Edmonton Journal, vice-president of hockey operations didn’t have promising remarks about the Finnish forward.
Wonder if the Edmonton Oilers would consider trading the high-end prospect Jani Rita to move well up in the first roudn of the draft?
Rita has been overshadowed by fellow Finnish winger Tony Salmelainen in the playoffs for the the farm team in Hamilton.
Salmelainen has been a buzz saw for the Bulldogs.
“Jani looks like he’s run out of gas,” said Oilers vice-president of hockey poerations Kevin Prendergast.
Rita’s third year in North America would see him play just two NHL games scoring no point and finding twine 17 times in the AHL caulking up 41 points in 64 games.
He returned to Finland during the lockout year finding continued offensive success, but struggled in the NHL in his return in 2005-06.
He would make the Oilers out of training camp as an extra forward, missing the first two games but drawing into the third. He earned a spot in the lineup, but the offence wasn’t quite coming. He scored three goals in 21 games and fired just 13 shots on net.
On January 26th, 2006, the would send him alongside defenceman Cory Cross to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Dick Tarnstrom — another rearguard who helped solve some defensive depth problems the team had.
“We feel we needed some help now, get ’em in and get ’em acclimatized and get them peaking at the right time… and also take them out of the pool of available players,” then-GM Kevin Lowe said at the time of the trade, also speaking about the recent acquisition of Jaroslav Spacek. “We didn’t have to give up any of our long-term future in these deals. Their best assets are their puck-moving ability and we’ve put a huge premium on that for our hockey club this year.
“We just feel real good about our defence right now, all eight of them.”
Rita’s tenure in Pittsburgh fared a bit better. His ice time bumped from 6:46 a night to 10:06 a night, and he scored three goals and seven points in the remaining 30 games.
While the Oilers were deep in a playoff run in mid-June, Rita inked a deal to return to play in Europe to play for the Finnish Elite League’s Jokerit. He remained there for 10 years when he retired after the 2015-16 season scoring 117 goals and 214 points in 477 games.

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