Rangers Sign Esa Tikkanen

Free agent left wing Esa Tikkanen signed with the New York Rangers Friday after leading the club in preseason scoring while on a tryout basis.

After drawing minimal interest as a free agent, Tikkanen agreed to a tryout agreement with the Rangers on Sept. 15th. He proceeded to record five goals and five assists in eight contests to win a permanent roster spot.

Tikkanen was a major contributor on the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team and the 1996-97 team which advanced to the Eastern Conference final.

The 33-year-old Tikkanen, a native of Finland, built his reputation as a legendary super pest and one of the NHL's top defensive forwards as a member of four Stanley Cup championship teams with the Edmonton Oilers in 1985, '87, '88 and '90.

But Tikkanen has also developed a reputation in recent years for coasting through the regular season, although he always seems to have a knack for scoring key goals in the playoffs. After being acquired by the Washington Capitals from the Florida Panthers last March, Tikkanen fulfilled his role as a defensive pest and helped the Capitals reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history.

However, he produced just three goals and three assists in 21 postseason games. Tikkanen missed an open net on a breakaway that would have sealed a win for Washington in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit, and it turned out to be the turning point of the Red Wings' sweep.

In 48 regular-season games for Vancouver and the Capitals last year, Tikkanen had only three goals and 18 assists with a plus-minus rating of minus-11. He missed 26 games for Florida with a fractured left fibula.

By returning to the Rangers, Tikkanen plays for former coach John Muckler, who directed the Edmonton Oilers to their fifth Stanley Cup title in 1990. Tikkanen, who can also play center, skated on the wing during training camp scrimmages for the Rangers.

Tikkanen has played for seven teams in his 14-year NHL career. He has 244 goals and 383 assists for 627 points in 845 games. Tikkanen was second in voting for the Selke Trophy, given to the best defensive forward, in 1995 as a member of the St. Louis Blues and also was runner-up in 1989 and 1991.

The Rangers first acquired Tikkanen from the Oilers in March 1993 in exchange for center Doug Weight. In 1993-94, the Rangers' first Stanley Cup-winning team in 54 years, Tikkanen had 22 goals and 32 assists in 83 games and added four goals in the playoffs.

The Rangers re-acquired Tikkanen from Vancouver in March 1997, and he was the major player in New York's surprising run to the Eastern Conference final with nine goals and three assists in 15 games.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved