Monday, August 13, 2012

Oilers History: Jari Kurri (1980 - 1990)

When you consider that Jari Kurri was a first ballot Hall of Famer who currently sits twentieth on the NHL's all time scoring list, many feel I am out to lunch for thinking Kurri was one of the most under appreciated players on the Edmonton Oilers during their dynasty years. Sure he has received his far share of credit for being Wayne Gretzky's trigger man but rarely has he be given his due for being the solid two-way player he was. In fact, one could argue that Kurri was almost as influential to the overall success of The Great One, as Gretzky was to the talented Finn.

When the Oilers decided to use their fourth round pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft on a young man from Helsinki, Finland, no one could have fathomed the type of player they were getting. There was even some doubt as to whether or not Kurri would ever come over to North America. After eventually deciding to come to Edmonton for the start of the 1980-81 season, the youngster got off to a slow start. As it turned out, it was nothing more than that.

Kurri got a chance to play on a line with Gretzky in late December and the rest, as the say, is history. The chemistry was instant and found the twenty year old finishing up a rather impressive rookie campaign with 32 goals and 75 points. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn't even sure he wanted to play in the National Hockey League.

Over the following seven seasons, the two linemates would go on to terrorize goaltenders throughout the league. While Gretzky was putting up his mind numbing numbers that have since littered the NHL record book, Kurri averaged an astonishing 52 goals and 110 points over that same seven year period.

With his career high of  71 goals and 135 points coming during the 1984-85 season, it should come as no shock that the highly talented Finn finished the year off with a staggering +76 rating. Not surprisingly, the Oilers reached five Stanley Cup Finals in that time span, winning four them.

When most reference Edmonton's dynasty days, the names you hear most often are Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey, with Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr often being looked upon as being part of "the rest". When in reality, those three were as crucial as anyone to the clubs overall success and Kurri was the one at the top of that list.

Jari was always a defensively responsible player but he morphed into one of the league's best defensive forwards, while putting up All-Star point totals. While Gretzky did what he did, he would never be mistaken for a defensive juggernaut in his own end of the ice. That was a responsibility that often fell onto Kurri's lap and one that he frankly excelled at.

He was not only one of Edmonton's premier penalty killers but was among the very best in the entire NHL and often found himself teamed up with Gretzky in shorthanded situations... but doing much of the dirty work.  The two combined to score a ridiculous 78 shorthanded goals between them, during their eight years togetherin the Alberta capital, giving the Oilers one of the most dangerous penalty killing units the game had ever seen. In short, Kurri did it all and was Edmonton's best all around player.

Much was made of the great Teemu Selanne passing Kurri on the all time scoring list during the 2011-12 campaign and hence becoming the highest scoring Finnish player in NHL history. After Selanne managed to pass his boyhood idol, the debate started as to who was the better player started.

Many have pointed to Teemu's numbers being just as good, despite playing in an era that wasn't as free wheelin' as the 80's. Valid point but Kurri did so much more than just put up points. Both are great players but it is hard not lean towards the former Oilers all round game.

Here's what Selanne had to say about Kurri back in 2010, while he was chasing down his career mark of 601 goals.

"I've learned a lot from him," Selanne said. "Things like how smart he was out there, the decisions he made about where he found the open spots and also where he shoots," he continued. "His release and his shot, they were deadly."

A lesson he hinted that he might have skipped, defence, is what made Kurri such a special player.

"You know what? I forgot that part," Selanne said, laughing. "Defensively, he took a lot of responsibility, obviously, playing with Wayne. … What a career he had. Unbelievable."

Unbelievable and under appreciated. Both perfectly describing one of the best players to have ever worn an Edmonton Oilers jersey.

Oilers History Page 

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