Sunday

Kari Eloranta

This is Kari Eloranta. He was a Finnish hockey star and Olympian who was one of the top players in the Swedish Elite League before trying his hand at the NHL at the age of 25.

When he came to North America in 1981 he was undoubtedly one of the most sought after free agents. Seven teams were in serious negotiations for his services, but it was the Calgary Flames who won the derby. The Flames figured they had just landed the next Risto Siltanen or Pekka Rautakallio - the next very good defenseman from Europe.

It didn't quite work out that way. Eloranta was probably every bit as good as Siltanen or Rautakallio, especially with the puck. But he never really adjusted to the NHL style and went back home to Europe just as he appeared to be finding his way.

After just 19 NHL games (he picked up just 5 assists) into the 1981-82 season the Flames demoted Eloranta to the minor leagues for more seasoning, and even went as far as to trade him to St. Louis in a conditional deal before the end of the season.

Eloranta finished the season with the Blues, scoring his first NHL goal and seven assists in 12 games. But Eloranta was returned to Calgary in the summer time.

Eloranta's first season in North America was dubbed a disappointment by just about everyone. Speculation had it that if he had a poor training camp in 1982 the Flames would buy out his guaranteed contract and allow him to return to Europe.

But the proud Eloranta would not give up so easily. He trained hard all summer, and gave it his best in training camp. He won the final spot on the Calgary blue line to start the season, at the expense of a promising though green rookie named Al MacInnis.

Experience was the biggest factor in Eloranta's improvement, as he said he felt "more relaxed out there. I'm taking it easy a little bit. Last year, I didn't know what to do."

Eloranta returned to the game that made him such an attractive prospect to begin with.

"Last year, I tried to do some things I haven't done before. I tried to play a hitting game. I like to move the puck and skate. I'm trying to play my own game."

Eloranta's played improved dramatically. He played the full 80 games, seeing time on the power play. He responded to the opportunity with 4 goals and 40 assists for a career high 44 points. He chipped in with 1 goal and 4 points in 9 playoff games, too.

Eloranta played 3 more seasons with the Flames, gradually losing ice time to up and coming defensemen like MacInnis and Gary Suter. The Flames began stockpiling the lower ranks of their back line with behemoths, writing Eloranta increasingly out of the picture.

Eloranta returned to Europe where he continued to star in Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland until 1997. He represented Finland in 4 Olympics, 4 World Championships and 1 Canada Cup.

Eloranta was a smooth skater and puck mover. As his NHL statistics suggested, he was more likely to pass than to shoot. In 267 NHL games he score just 13 goals, but had 103 assists for 116 points. He could be rendered neutral by a heavy forechecking team, but I always had a soft spot for an intelligent, puck mover like Kari Eloranta.

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