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Jari Kurri—Finland's Champion

Jari Kurri is not only the greatest Finnish player to ever play in the National Hockey League, he is also one of the greatest Europeans to ever play in the league, too.

He spent many of those years, from 1980 to 1990, patrolling the wing for the Edmonton Oilers, where he won five Stanley Cups.

The Oilers selected Kurri in the fourth round of the 1980 draft, the 69th pick overall. Kurri was establishing himself as a solid right-winger with the famed Jokerit club out of Helsinki, but he was an unknown quantity in North America. Likewise, Kurri had no illusions about coming to North America for training camp.

"Did I think I would play here as long as I did? No, not really," said Kurri. "As I was growing up, I never really thought I had a chance to come over here. I don’t think it was until I was 18 or 19 that I realized that I might even have a chance to play in the NHL. And even when I got here, I thought if I made it that I would play for just one year and go back to Finland."

Jari KurriEventually, Kurri decided against going back to Finland, at least not right away. Oilers’ coach and general manager Glen Sather followed a gut instinct and put Kurri on the right wing of Wayne Gretzky. At the time, Sather did not know he had created a dynamic chemistry that would produce so many goals. Kurri scored 429 regular season and playoff goals that were assisted by Gretzky.

As an Oiler, Kurri enjoyed four 50-goal seasons, two 60-goal-plus campaigns and became a member of the exclusive 70-goals-in-a-season club in 1983-84, when he lit the lamp 71 times.

Jari KurriHowever it is not fair to think that Kurri needed Gretzky to be a great player in his own right. In the first season after the Oilers traded Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, Kurri was named the Oilers’ team MVP. In the 154 Oilers regular-season games Kurri played without Gretzky as his centre, he registered 195 points, well more than a point-per-game average.

Kurri was a pioneer—his success in the NHL paved the way for a new, modern NHL that features players from around the world. Kurri was the inspiration for Finns and other Europeans who dreamed that they could take their talents to the National Hockey League. It is that legacy that is as important as all of Kurri’s on-ice achievements.

Kurri was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001—but, despite all his accomplishments, his greatest memory comes from 1984, when he held the Stanley Cup aloft for the first time.

"There were so many good memories," said Kurri, who is now a hockey broadcaster in his home and native Finland. "Ten years with the Oilers. Five Stanley Cups. But if there was one memory that would stick out, it would definitely be that first Cup. I didn’t really know how big the Cup was until I saw the reaction of the city—the fans and the other players. It wasn’t until I saw the effect the Cup had on everyone in Edmonton that I realized how important it was. It really woke me up to what an achievement it was."

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