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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Jari Kurri

Hockey Hall of Famer on if Ovechkin can catch Gretzky, playing for Oilers

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With ..." runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Jari Kurri, a forward on the Edmonton Oilers from 1980-90 who won the Stanley Cup five times. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001 and named one of the NHL's 100 Greatest Players in 2017. He is the general manager of Jokerit in the Kontinental Hockey League, the Finland-based team where he began his professional career.

Jari Kurri thought he wasn't ready and didn't think he was prepared for the NHL and hockey in North America when the Edmonton Oilers chose him in the fourth round (No. 69) of the 1980 NHL Draft.

"Not enough (Finland) men's national team games under my belt, I thought I needed more experience," Kurri said. "In those days, we didn't have lots of information about the NHL, what it's all about. We only had a few players make it, but I wasn't really sure I was a good enough player to get there."

Kurri reluctantly made the journey to Edmonton from Helsinki for what he thought would be a two-year stay in North America that instead turned into a 17-season career as one of the best players in the NHL. As Wayne Gretzky's right wing, Kurri played on Edmonton's five Stanley Cup championship teams (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990) and led the NHL by scoring 68 goals in 1985-86.

"I'm happy I made the decision to go and the rest is history," Kurri said. "To play with [Gretzky] all those years and all those other big stars, Hockey Hall of Famers."

Video: Jari Kurri Gretzky's wingman during Oilers' dynasty

Kurri scored 1,398 points (601 goals, 797 assists) in 1,251 games with the Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Colorado Avalanche, fifth in NHL history among right wings. His 233 points (106 goals, 127 assists) in 200 Stanley Cup Playoff games are third all-time behind Gretzky (382 points; 122 goals, 260 assists) and Mark Messier (295 points; 109 goals, 186 assists).

After retiring from the NHL in 1998, Kurri was general manager of Finland's national team from 2003-14. Today he's GM of Jokerit, the Helsinki-based team that spawned his career and now competes in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Kurri, who turned 60 on May 18, discussed his career, the state of the Oilers, the chances of Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin breaking Gretzky's NHL record of 894 goals, and Mikko Lehtonen, a 26-year-old defenseman who signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 4 after playing for Jokerit in 2019-20.

Here are Five Questions with ... Jari Kurri 

 

Grant Fuhr recently said that he thought that the Oilers' 1987 Stanley Cup team was better than the 1984-85 team voted the No. 1 Greatest NHL Team during the League's Centennial Celebration in 2017. Do you have a favorite team? 

"It's really hard to say. I think in '87 we had a really good team with (center) Kent Nilsson. Remember, we were really young. That '84 team was really young overall, but I think they were all good teams. Of course, the first Stanley Cup is special. I had no idea what it meant for the players, for the team, for the city, for the fans. I had no idea. To come from Europe, I had no idea how much it meant for the Edmonton people. It was unbelievable to be part of that."

Video: 1984-85 Oilers dominate to claim second straight Cup

 

Working and living in Finland, did you have time to follow the Oilers this season?

"Of course I follow, and I have to say they had a great year going on with Connor [McDavid] as their leader and [Leon] Draisaitl having another strong year. They're going to be a strong team in the next couple of years. They have a bright future for sure."

 

Where do you think the Oilers are development-wise toward becoming a Stanley Cup-winning team?

"There's skill, but the '80s (Oilers) teams had a lot of skill: [Gretzky's] line, you have [Messier's line]. You had two great strong lines, Paul Coffey on defense, Kevin Lowe on defense and very good role players. We were very powerful offensively. Today's [team] is not there yet. Of course, they've built a great first line, but the second line is not, maybe. But they're going in the right direction, no question about that, which I'm happy to see."

 

Do you think Alex Ovechkin can surpass Gretzky's NHL goals record?

"It's still a long way to go (Ovechkin has scored 706 goals). He can do it if he stays motivated, stays healthy and all those things. He's the main man to do it; I don't see anybody else behind him doing it. I will be very surprised if he does it. If he does, it will be great for hockey, but we have to see and wait. There's still a long way to go, but it's amazing numbers he puts up year after year. It's amazing the way he scores night after night and opposing teams can't stop him."

 

What type of player are the Maple Leafs getting in Lehtonen, who signed a one-year contract after playing this season for Jokerit?

"They are getting a very exciting player, a motivated player. He's very professional, he's trained hard, he's very focused. He has built his career very carefully, taking the right steps in the right time. He has a good wrist shot and is good at the blue line and in the offensive zone. He can really get the puck in the net."

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