Esa Tikkanen—Super Pest
Every championship team needs a
player who pesters his opponents. A player who
can get a rise out of the most even-headed players and draw the opposition into
In Esa Tikkanen, the Oilers
had arguably the best pest that ever played the game.
Although hated on the ice, Tikkanen was a true character
in the dressing room; his personally concocted pidgin of
Finnish and English confused everyone from compatriot Jari Kurri to his
Although the Oilers selected him as a
defensive-minded forward, Tikkanen
became a fan favourite as one of the Oilers clutch
scorers. He scored five playoff winning goals, including
the famous Game 7 overtime winner at Calgary’ Saddledome
in 1991. His 436 career points ranked him seventh on the Oilers all-time list as
Tikkanen, a heralded Finnish junior
star, spent time as a teen playing junior hockey in Saskatchewan. In 1983,
the Oilers drafted "Tikk" in the fourth
round of the draft. Still in Europe, he did not return
to North America right away, choosing instead to play in
the Finnish Elite League. In 1985, after the Finnish
national team had ended its springtime run in the World
Championships, Tikkanen signed with the Oilers and
arrived in time to participate in three playoff games
and hoist the Stanley Cup. He spent most of the 1985-86
campaign with the Oilers’ minor-league team in Nova
Scotia. After the Oilers’ had lost to the Flames in the 1986
playoffs, he was inserted alongside Kurri and
Gretzky to add some grit to the Oilers’ top line.
Tikkanen's role was to act as defensive cover for
the two offensive dynamos. Over the next two seasons, Tikkanen would earn 152 points, 273 penalty minutes
and finish with a +65 rating. The Finnish national team
noted his success and selected him for the 1987 Canada Cup.
That same season, he played
for the NHL All-Star team that faced the Soviet National
side in the Rendezvous series.
Tikkanen never lost his
effectiveness after Gretzky was traded in
1988. He relished the pressure of having to
produce more offence for the team, and raised his level
of play. He had arguably his
finest run of games in the 1990 playoffs, as the Oilers
won the Cup for the fifth time (Tikkanen’s fourth ring).
He registered 24 points in just 22 games.
The Oilers traded Tikkanen to the Rangers
on March 17, 1993, in exchange for young American prospect
Doug Weight. Tikkanen faced his old Oiler teammates in his first-ever game as
a Ranger and even though the Blueshirts lost out in the 1993
playoffs, Tikkanen played a key part of the
team’s Stanley Cup win in 1994. He left the Rangers the
next season, and then became a journeyman. Over the next seven years, he spent time with
the St. Louis Blues, New Jersey Devils, Vancouver
Canucks, New York Rangers (again), Florida Panthers,
Washington Capitals (who lost the Cup final in 1998 to
the Detroit Red Wings), HIFK Helsinki, Jokerit Helsinki
and Essen of the German league. Tikkanen even tried to
make a comeback with the Oilers late in his career by
coming to their training camp. He never made the
team, and in 2001, he hung up
his skates for good. He ended his career with 630 points in 877 career NHL games and
five Stanley Cups.
Despite spending much of his
career in North America, Tikkanen never lost touch with
his homeland. He played for Finland in five World
Championships, two Canada Cups, the 1998 Olympics and
three World Junior tournaments.