Over the years, U.S. ice hockey has welcomed players from all over the world, and Finland is no exception. Numerous Finnish players have played for NHL teams, including the Colorado Avalanche. Indeed, the Avalanche currently includes the mighty Finns Joonas Donskoi and Mikko Rantanen.
Mikko is almost certainly going to go down as the best Finnish player in Avs history, assuming his career arc plays out like it should. He probably already is the greatest Finn to have played in Denver – at least as for what he’s accomplished on the ice anyway.
But, before him, there were some good ones too.
Here is our pick of the five greatest Finnish players, pre-Rantanen:
Before Riku Hahl went to the US, he played for his hometown team HPK in the Finnish SM-liiga, where he was well-known for his defensive skills. In 2000, the forward impressed the Avalanche coaches at training camp, and he subsequently played 43 NHL games the following season, which included 21 playoffs. In total, Hahl played 92 regular-season games during his NHL career.
As we nudge closer to 2021, fans are already using Casumo betting odds to predict who will be the Finnish stars of the next NHL season. If you do not speak Finnish, you now know one word: “vedonlyönti” means “betting” in the Finnish language.
Former player Ville Nieminen played more than 400 games in the NHL over his career. In 1997, the Colorado Avalanche drafted the Tampere-born forward. He also played for various other NHL teams during his career, including a major role for the Calgary team that nearly won a Cup in 2004.
Known for his aggressive style of play, Nieminen gained notoriety as an annoying opponent on the ice. However, outside of the rink, Nieminen was well-known for his relaxed personality and wacky sense of humor. During his time with the Avalanche, Nemo was a major player in the team’s 2001 Cup championship. He scored a couple of huge playoff goals and helped the Avs overcome the loss of Peter Forsberg. Nieminen also did his home country proud when he represented Finland at the World Cup of Hockey in 2004.
I covered him at DU in the early 1990s, and while he was considered a good college player, not many thought he would go on to a career in the NHL. His first three years at DU, in fact, he was bypassed in the NHL draft.
But he was taken 191st overall by Boston in 1997 and went on to play 483 NHL games, 122 of which were with the Avalanche, from 2005-07. A speedy winger who specialized in short-handed goals, Laaksonen scored 16 goals and 34 points in 81 games for the 2005-06 Avs, with two points in nine playoff games. Injuries limited him to just 41 games the following season, and his NHL career ended there – although he went on to play three more years in Europe.
This is a tricky one. There is no doubt that Teemu Selänne is one of the greatest Finnish hockey stars of all time, if not the greatest. But during his time with the Avalanche, he had a disastrous season, scoring only 16 goals and 32 points, which is the lowest of his career so far. A knee injury didn’t help, but he also just never really saw eye to eye with coach Tony Granato. But 16 goals and 32 points still gets him on this list, as the Avs just haven’t had too many players from Finland.
Selänne remains the highest-scoring Finn in the history of the NHL. He has also been a long-standing member of Finland’s national team. Selänne has played in five World Championships, earning a silver and a bronze, and he is a six-time Olympian, with three bronze medals and one silver. In Finland, Selänne is one of the country’s most famous sports stars, a true icon.
The great Jari Kurri ended his career as the highest-scoring player born in Europe in NHL history, clocking up 797 assists, 601 goals, and a whopping 1,398 points. In 2001, the five-time Stanley Cup champion was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kurri had a long and illustrious career playing with Edmonton, then other NHL clubs, and it was only toward the end of his career that he joined forces with the Colorado Avalanche, in 1997-98. The highlight of Kurri’s first season with the Avalanche was scoring his 600th NHL-career goal.
Actually, that was probably the only highlight. Kurri, no doubt, was washed up by this time. But, hey, he’s gotta be on this list.