European signings

By Lain Babcock
Kevin Lowe took a page from teams like Minnesota and Columbus by drafting and then signing three older European players, all of whom may step in next season:

G Jussi Markkanen: A 26 year old from Finland, who had a breakthrough season with Tappara of the Finnish Elite League. His record was 30-17-5, with a goals against average of 2.09. The organization is very high on him, and they hope he’ll win the job as Tommy Salo’s backup in 01-02.

D Kari Haakana: 27 years old, rock solid at 6’1 and 228 pounds, Haakana has been described by those who saw him last season (he played for Jokerit of the Finnish elite league) as a punishing hitter, and a very physical defender. The Oilers have expressed confidence that Haakana can step right into the lineup.

D Ales Pisa: 24 years old, 6’0 and 195, Pisa is described as being another solid defenseman, who got riled up enough to hit a referre and get a 15 game suspension last season (he played in the Czech elite league for Pradubice, and scored 10-13-23 in 47 games). Pisa has a hard shot from the point, and may eventually get some power play time. Pisa signed a two way deal with the Oilers, implying some time in Hamilton is possible.

In a much anticipated move, Edmonton signed RW Jani Rita, the highly touted Finnish winger that fans have been waiting to see in an Oilers uniform. Rita signed a three year deal, and has a solid shot at making the big club, although some time in Hamilton might be best for him. Rita is from the 1999 Oilers draft class (he was picked 13th overall) that also includes Mike Comrie and Alexei Semenov. Like Haakana, Rita played for Jokerit in the Finnish Elite league last season, and also shone for the Finns at the World Junior Championships.

The Oilers rounded out a flurry of signings by inking center Jan Benda (a team mate of Rita’s and Haakana’s on Jokerit, Benda signed a one way contract), center Greg Leeb, who played for Utah of the IHL, and highly rated defenseman Alex Ljubimov, a 21 year old Russian who at 6’2, 200 pounds will be a welcome addition to the fold.

The signings leave the Oilers with a multitude of NHL ready defensemen, and with the team overloaded at left wing, and without a true number one center, the wheeling and dealing may not be done yet.