April 24, 2016

Kai Suikkanen

Kai Suikkanen was never drafted by the NHL, so the Buffalo Sabres signed him to a three year contract in August of 1981.

The reasons for signing Suikkanen may not be obvious in retrospect. He had a good junior career which included a strong 1978 World Junior Championship and a repeat appearance at that tourney in 1979. He had two solid seasons under his belt in the Finnish Elite League when the Sabres signed him just prior to the 1981-82 season. He was big at 6'2" and 200 pounds, and seemed to be able to handle the American Hockey League well enough. In two seasons he put together 33 and 34 goal and 67 and 77 point seasons, respectively. But he only was promoted for one NHL game in each of those two seasons. And then just 15 games into the 1983-84 season, he was allowed to go back to Finland after not making the Sabres for a third try. He would round out his career in Finland in 1991, and included appearances in the 1986 World Championship and 1988 Olympics as highlights.

In the early 1980s, the Buffalo Sabres were experimenting with European players, particularly out of Finland. One of their top prospects was defenseman Hannu Virta. One of the reasons the Sabres went after Suikkanen was to serve as a friend and mentor for young Finnish stars like Virta. However Kai never was able to stick it out in the National League, thus dashing those plans. Virta went onto become an impressive NHLer, but knew very little English in his first year and was quite homesick. Ultimately he would leave the NHL much too early, just 4 years into his career, and return to Finland too.

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