Legends of Hockey -- NHL Player Search -- Player -- Reijo Ruotsalainen
At the very beginning, Reijo Ruotsalainen's lack of size forced him to be a goalie. As a youngster, he couldn't afford skates, so he stood between the posts in felt boots while his feet turned to icicles.

When Ruotsalainen was only 14, the coach of the Finnish men's team, Kari Makinen, was already interested in putting him on the team. But he did end up there two years later. The club lost a defender just prior to the start of the season and Makinen convinced Ruotsalainen that it was the right time to make a move. He started the season as the number eight blueliner and by Christmas he was already number one on the team. It was quite a feat in his first year -- and playing against men three to four years older.

"Rental Rexi," as the wags called him in the NHL, is perhaps the greatest skater ever to play Finnish hockey, but because he was a small defenseman, he has been underestimated, especially in pro circles. It all started with the NHL draft. Although Ruotsalainen was a star in the Finnish league, in the NHL he was rated lower than Timo Blomqvist, a blueliner with good size but not much potential. The scouts said he would never make it into the NHL and complained that he skated with his back to the puck, so how could he possibly know what was happening? But Ruotsalainen proved all the doubters wrong. He eventually played 446 regular-season games plus 86 post-season ones, producing 344 and 47 points respectively. Lars-Erik Sjoberga, famous Swedish defenseman in his time and a pro for the Winnipeg Jets both in the WHA and after their transition to the NHL and later a scout for the New York Rangers -- convinced the club that, in spite of everything, the fast young skater had promise beyond his reputation in pro circles. New York took a chance and picked him as the 119th player in the 1980 draft. It turned out to be a steal.

During his career, he played for the New York Rangers, the Edmonton Oilers and the New Jersey Devils and then returned to the Oilers to win the 1990 Stanley Cup with the team with which he had achieved post-season supremacy in 1987. On returning to Europe, he became a legend with SC Bern in Switzerland and was invited to return anytime he pleased to the team he effectively quarterbacked.

Ruotsalainen's main asset was his skating. Herb Brooks, who coached him with the Rangers, claimed that the Finn was the best skater in the NHL at the time. Ruotsalainen belongs to the generation of players from Karpat Oulu who put this northern city on the Finnish hockey map. He helped them become one of the top clubs in the league and eventually go on to win the national championship in 1981. During the regular season, Ruotsalainen was a sensational sixth in the scoring parade with 28 goals in 34 games. His total of 51 points left him trailing the club's top scorer -- center Mikko Leinonen -- by a single point.

In the Swedish playoffs, Ruotsalainen led his team to the title and along the way placed third overall in playoff scoring and was runner-up once again on the team. First place went to Kari Jalonen, a tall center also out to try his luck in the pro ranks.


REGULAR SEASON PLAYOFFS
Season Club League GP G A TP PIM +/- GP G A TP PIM
1975-76 Karpat Oulu Finland-2 34 9 15 24 12
1975-76 Finland EJC-A 3 1 0 1 0
1976-77 Karpat Oulu Finland-2 42 25 41 66 14
1976-77 Finland WJC-A 7 2 4 6 6
1976-77 Finland EJC-A 2 0 2 2 0
1977-78 Karpat Oulu Finland 30 9 14 23 4
1977-78 Finland WJC-A 6 3 3 6 2
1977-78 Finland WEC-A 10 2 0 2 2
1978-79 Karpat Oulu Finland 36 14 8 22 47
1978-79 Finland WJC-A 6 0 3 3 0
1978-79 Finland WEC-A 6 2 0 2 2
1979-80 Karpat Oulu Finland 30 15 13 28 31 6 5 2 7 0
1979-80 Finland WJC-A 5 4 3 7 2
1980-81 Karpat Oulu Finland 34 28 23 51 28 12 7 4 11 6
1980-81 Finland WEC-A 8 3 2 5 4
1981-82 Finland Can-Cup 5 0 1 1 2
1981-82 New York Rangers DN-Cup 4 1 6 7
1981-82 New York Rangers NHL 78 18 38 56 27 +18 10 4 5 9 2
1982-83 New York Rangers NHL 77 16 53 69 22 +27 9 4 2 6 6
1983-84 New York Rangers NHL 74 20 39 59 26 +17 5 1 1 2 2
1984-85 New York Rangers NHL 80 28 45 73 32 -27 3 2 0 2 6
1984-85 Finland WEC-A 10 0 4 4 6
1985-86 New York Rangers NHL 80 17 42 59 47 +22 16 0 8 8 6
1986-87 SC Bern Swiss 35 26 27 53 27
1986-87 Edmonton Oilers NHL 16 5 8 13 6 +8 21 2 5 7 10
1987-88 Finland Can-Cup 4 0 0 0 2
1987-88 HV 71 Jonkoping Sweden 40 10 22 32 26 2 0 1 1 2
1987-88 Finland Olympics 8 4 2 6 0
1988-89 SC Bern Swiss 36 17 29 46 46 11 4 7 11 22
1988-89 Finland WEC-A 10 2 4 6 6
1989-90 New Jersey Devils NHL 31 2 5 7 14 -4
1989-90 Edmonton Oilers NHL 10 1 7 8 6 -1 22 2 11 13 12
1990-91 SC Bern Swiss 36 13 25 38 20 10 5 8 13 10
1991-92 SC Bern Swiss 35 7 16 23 24 11 4 6 10 4
1992-93 SC Bern Swiss 31 7 15 22 42 5 0 3 3 29
1993-94 Karpat Oulu Finland-2 4 1 5 6 6
1993-94 Tappara Tampere Finland 6 2 4 6 2 9 1 2 3 6
1994-95 SC Bern Swiss 19 3 7 10 20 6 1 5 6 4
1995-96 KalPa Kuopio Finland 16 3 5 8 4
1995-96 Zurcher SC Swiss 18 4 11 15 4
1996-97 Karpat Oulu Finland-2 17 1 5 6 14 9 0 4 4 0
1997-98 Karpat Oulu Finland-2 44 8 23 31 42 14 2 6 8 10
NHL Totals 446 107 237 344 180 86 15 32 47 44


WJC-A All-Star Team (1980)
Best Defenseman at WJC-A (1980)
Finnish First All-Star Team (1980, 1981) Played in NHL All-Star Game (1986)
Traded to Edmonton by NY Rangers with Clark Donatelli, Ville Kentala and Jim Wiemer for Mike Golden, Don Jackson, Miloslav Horava and future considerations (Stu Kulak, March 10, 1987), October 23, 1986. Claimed by New Jersey from Edmonton in Waiver Draft, October 5, 1987. Traded to Edmonton by New Jersey for Jeff Sharples, March 6, 1990.
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