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Hockey Heroes: Risto Siltanen

When the Edmonton Oilers entered the NHL in 1979, they embraced players from Finland more so than other organizations. They had great success with Jari Kurri, and also with the likes of Matti Hagman and Risto Siltanen.
The St. Louis Blues actually drafted Siltanen in 1978, but he remained in Finland until joining the WHA Edmonton Oilers later in the year. The Blues retained his NHL rights upon the Oilers merger with the NHL, but traded him to Edmonton before the season started. Siltanen was in the lineup for the Oilers first ever NHL game.

In the Oilers early days prior to Paul Coffey's emergence, it was Siltanen who assumed the offensive dman's role. One of the earlier European imports, Risto Siltanen was a very good offensive presence from the blue line. He was an excellent skater both in terms of speed and agility. He liked to rush the puck out of the zone, as his passing game was only average. He was a terrific stickhandler, though he could be pressured into holding the puck longer than he should have. He was reluctant to give up or dump the puck out of his zone without making a play.

In three seasons in Edmonton Siltanen emerged as a defenseman who could be counted on for about 15 goals and 50 points a season - not too shabby. However he was not a notable physical player or defensive presence. He had excellence strength in his tiny frame. Teammates dubbed him a few variations of Hulk, usually "The Littlest Hulk." He really only benefited from his upper body strength when unleashing his powerful shot. He was never shy to fire that cannon, often with the offense setting him up for one-timers.

The Oilers traded Siltanen to Hartford in 1983 in exchange for Kenny Linseman. Linseman would play 2 seasons in Edmonton, helping the Oilers win their first Stanley Cup in 1984. Siltanen meanwhile would spend the better part of 4 seasons in Hartford, being named as the team's top blueliner in his first year. Ultimately though he was underrated, player barely noticed by the rest of the league.

Siltanen returned to Canada late in 1986, traded to Quebec in exchange for John Anderson. He spent the full 1986-87 season with the Nordiques before returning to Finland. Interestingly, in one of his final NHL games Siltanen's Nordiques were playing the Whalers in the playoffs. Siltanen had a monster game, registering 5 assists, tying a NHL record! He tended to have occassional big games like that. Earlier that season he scored 2 goals and 2 assists in a single game. He was also the first Edmonton defenseman to score a hat trick.

Siltanen returned to European, initially playing a season in Switzerland before spending 4 seasons with Ilves Tampere (where he set several team records) and another 4 seasons with Tuto Turku. He rounded out his career with a final campaign in Germany, retiring in 1997.

Risto Siltanen was inducted into the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998. His NHL career consisted of 562 careers games with 90 goals, 265 assists for 355 points. He also represented Finland at the 1981 Canada Cup and the 1983 world championships.


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