The underdogs keep coming throughout the week. I’m a goalie guy and one of my favourite underdogs in the history of the Oilers is Jussi Markkanen.
Markkanen’s big moment in an Oiler sweater is relegated to one playoff series in 2006, but he spent nearly six years with the club overall.
Markkanen was drafted in the fifth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft out of SM-Liiga. The Finland native would turn 26 years of age in his draft year. Non-North American players are permitted to be drafted after age 20, which made Markkanen at 25 unique. It served the Oilers well, because Markkanen was far more developed at 25 than an 18 or 19 year old prospect.
The Finland native would see both AHL and NHL action in his first year with the club. 2001-02 was a year dominated by Tommy Salo in the crease, though Jussi Markkanen would play 14 games (6-4-2) and post a lovely .929 SV% in relief. In 2002-03, Markkanen’s game count would increase to 22 behind Salo, a season that saw him turn in three shutouts. Tommy Salo had four. This can work.
2003-04 saw Jussi Markkanen head to the Rangers in a deal, but it wouldn’t be for long. The Oilers sent Jussi Markkanen to the NY Rangers along with a fourth round draft pick for the rights to then-pending UFA Brian Leetch. I don’t think anyone believed that Leetch was going to sign a deal with the Oilers, but the Oilers were awarded a compensatory pick in 2004 when Leetch eventually signed on for two more years in NY. Markkanen found himself back in Oiler colours less than nine months later when he along with Petr Nedved were traded to Edmonton for goaltender Stephen Valiquette, a pick and a prospect. Markkanen combined for 33 games between both teams, though Ty Conklin had made his presence felt in Markkanen’s absence. Markkanen played in just seven games for the Oilers upon being reacquired, while Conklin played 39 games alongside Tommy Salo that year.
It looked like Markkanen could have lost his place in Edmonton’s goaltending stable after being shuffled to NY. Conklin put up a decent .912 SV% and a shutout while Markkanen spent 90% of his season behind Mike Richter in NY. That would change, but not without a wait.
The second labour stoppage in ten years took place when the NHL lost an entire year in 2004-05. Markkanen found work in the now-defunct Russian Elite League, where he started every game of their 2004-05 season before making his way back to the Oilers in 2005-06.
2005-06 was a memorable year for a lot of Oiler fans. It was a year that began like any other year, but it ended in June. The ride was unlike any playoff run since 1990. An unlikely candidate appeared to lend a hand.
Jussi Markkanen didn’t have a great regular season in 2005-06. Along with Ty Conklin and Mike Morrison (who was later placed on waivers after the club acquired Dwayne Roloson from the Minnesota Wild), Markkanen and the rest of the Oilers were able to secure an eighth place spot in the Western Conference. That’s good enough to get into the dance, but they’d face an incredible task against Detroit. Not only did they take care of the Wings in six games, they rolled the Sharks in six, and took care of the Ducks in 5. Dwayne Roloson was a stalwart in the net for the Oilers, and the club was four wins over the Hurricanes away from the 2006 Stanley Cup.
Game one took place in Carolina. A 4-4 tie lasted well into the third, when Marc-Andre Bergeron would collide with Andrew Ladd, who collided into Dwayne Roloson. Roloson would be unavailable for the rest of the series, the club brought in Ty Conklin who made a gaffe while playing the puck behind his net. Game 2 would bring Jussi Markkanen into the net to help climb an uphill battle.
Edmonton took it to seven games with Jussi Markkanen in net. A crazy game 5 with some late stage heroics from Fernando PIsani, followed by a shutout at home. Edmonton couldn’t quite seal the deal in Carolina, but Jussi Markkanen helped lead the Oilers to the final fight. Those two weeks were the best an Oilers fan had felt since at least sixteen years prior. It was at least as good as anyone would feel until Edmonton’s next playoff appearance in 2017.
Markkanen would play one more season in Edmonton before departing overseas. He retired from pro hockey in 2017-18.
Jussi Markkanen wasn’t the biggest, the flashiest, or the tallest, or any of those. When Edmonton needed him most, he was there. This one’s to you, Jussi - a classic Oiler underdog.