The incredible story of how Oilers snatched Jari Kurri in the fourth round of the Draft – without a single other NHL team even interested

Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player of all time, and he was the face of the Edmonton Oilers franchise in the dynasty years in the 80s.

Gretzky was the face of hockey throughout all of his career, and he’s the best goal scorer, assist maker, and point producer in league history.

But he wouldn’t reached the same numbers without Jari Kurri.

For several years, the Gretzky/Kurri duo was the most feared in the NHL. Kurri is one of the best goal scorers ever, and during an impressive career, he won five Stanley Cups and had over 600 goals.

Jari Kurri was selected in the fourth round of the 1980 NHL Draft and was an immediate success in the NHL, scoring 75 points in 75 games in his rookie season.

Kurri was clearly ready to play in the big league immediately after the draft, but how did the Edmonton Oilers manage to snatch him as late in the draft, and why were no other NHL teams interested? The story behind the draft pick is absolutely incredible.

A year earlier, Jari Kurri played with the Finnish national team and Jokerit of the Finnish SM-liiga and got a chance to play against the Edmonton Oilers.

1987: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers talks with teammate Jari Kurri #17 during an NHL game circa 1987. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

It’s difficult to imagine these days, but back then, the Oilers and other WHA teams occasionally played against national teams.

It even counted in the standings, so when the Oilers played Finland, they had to take the game seriously. They won 8-4, but what they learned from the game was about a winger named Jari Kurri, who played better than most Oilers players.

This was long before the internet and YouTube existed, and other teams in the WHA and NHL were unable to watch the game and witness Kurri’s greatness.

MONTREAL, CANADA- CIRCA 1980: Jari Kurri #17 of the Edmonton Oilers warms-up before a game against the Montreal Canadiens Circa 1980 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

But there was another problem. NHL teams had heard of Kurri, but they all thought that he had military service coming up in Finland.

The Oilers, however, took matters into their own hands. They made some calls to the Finnish government and ensured that Kurri wasn’t obligated to do military service.

No team was interested in a winger that would be unavailable for a long time, but the Oilers knew something that no other team did.

Jari Kurri. Source: Bildbyran

That the whole thing was off, Kurri was free to head to the NHL as soon as he was drafted.

So when the NHL Entry Draft finally happened, the Oilers were comfortable that no other team had gotten the information. By the fourth round, they selected Kurri, who would later become one of hockey’s greatest wingers. And it’s undoubtedly one of the best trade values of all time.


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