Petri Skriko, Winger, 8th round, 157th overall, 1981 Draft
The Vancouver Canucks draft history isn’t exactly peppered with Finns. Canadians and Swedes? Most definitely. Americans? Check. Of course, the organization has also selected its fair share of Czechs and Russians over the years. But Finns? The Canuck’s draft record is decidedly sparse when it comes to that particular stripe of Scandinavia.
Consider that, this century alone, the Canucks have drafted exactly one Finnish player – the immortal Jonathan Iilahti (2010, 6th round, 175th overall) – eligible to play for Team Suomi. And the last player the Canucks drafted from Finland who actually played for the team was old friend Jarkko Ruutu, selected way back in 1998. In fact, the Canucks franchise has drafted just five players from Finland in its history. One suspects that, had they been selecting second or third this year, that number would have risen to six. And who knows? Benning and company may surprise at number 5.
As it stands, the debate over who the best Finnish Canuck of all-time is far more interesting than the debate over the best Finnish Canuck draft pick. While Jyrki Lumme could stake a claim to the former title, there is no question that the winner of the latter is Petri “The Streak” Skriko – the subject of today’s draft gems.
Hailing from the small city Laapeenranta in southern Finland, Skriko was a prolific scorer for his hometown team SaiPa Lappeenranta in the SM-liiga – twice leading the team in scoring. The first time he accomplished the feat – in 1981 – he had a teammate named Stu Ostlund who had been an eighth round Vancouver draft pick in the 1976 draft. Ostlund was so impressed by what he saw in the young winger that when he spoke to then-Canuck GM Jack Gordon about some expense pay from his time with the Dallas Black Hawks of the CHL (the Canucks affiliate) he mentioned to Gordon that he had better check out Skriko. Although Gordon had never heard of the Finnish winger, he phoned a scout in Sweden to make the trip over to Finland to see him. Skriko’s play convinced the Canucks to use their eighth round pick, 157th overall, on the young Finn in that year’s draft. When Skriko finished second in tournament scoring at the 1982 World Junior Hockey Championship (with Finland winning bronze), the Canucks knew they had something. In later years, the Canucks would take credit for finding Skriko, downplaying Ostlund’s role. This, from a team that didn’t even employ a full-time European scout.
In the Finnish league, Skriko would form a dynamic duo with 1980 USA Olympic team cut Ralph Cox. SaiPa Laapeenranta, however, never achieved much in the way of team success while Skriko played there (and hasn’t done much since, either). Skriko served 10 months in the Finnish army before eventually coming to Vancouver and signing a one-year deal with the Canucks in May 1984.
His first season was a qualified success, as the rookie winger scored 21 goals and 35 points. By the following season, Skriko had been placed on the Canucks top line along with Patrik Sundstrom and Tony Tanti. The line found instant chemistry, with Skriko recording his first career hat-trick against the Detroit Red Wings on November 19, 1985. He finished the season with 38 goals and 78 points – his first of four consecutive 30-goal seasons.
The skilled and slick Skriko had a penchant for scoring goals in bunches. In November 1986, he put together one of the most productive months in Canuck history – and certainly one of the most productive weeks. Playing with newly-acquired centre Barry Pederson (!) and Jim Sandlak, Skriko went on a tear starting November 18. He started by scoring three goals against the Calgary Flames, followed by a four goal outburst against the New York Rangers on the 22nd, then two goals against the Kings on November 25th (in Vancouver), and another hat trick against the Kings (in Los Angeles) the next night. This amazing streak bestowed Skriko with both the nickname “the Streak” and NHL Player of the Month honours for November – the first Canuck to ever receive the award.
Although a relatively prolific scorer, Skriko was doomed to be a good player on a lot of bad teams. During his tenure with the Canucks, the team only qualified for the playoffs twice in his five full seasons. And those two trips to the playoffs only amounted to ten games. He fell out of favour with the organization – particularly head coach Bob McCammon – and requested a trade in the summer of 1990. Both Garry Valk and Gino Odjick had passed him on the team depth chart and he was benched for over 20 games at one point. “But my problem goes beyond that [not playing],” he said at the time, “I just can’t play for Bob McCammon any more. It’s personal. I can’t talk about it. It’s a business decision. It’s time to change.” Although this likely spelled the end of McCammon’s tenure as Canuck’s coach, he publicly stated that having Skriko “whining for seven weeks” because he had not yet been traded as the reason for the team’s lack of success in January of 1991 – the same month Skriko got his wish and was traded to the Boston Bruins.
In Boston, Skriko finally had the chance to play for a winning side and make an extended playoff run. But he ended up getting shipped to Winnipeg early the following season and then wound up in San Jose the next, playing only sporadically. He went to play for six seasons with Herning in the Danish League, where he rediscovered his scoring touch and finally won a championship – four, in fact.
Today, Skriko works as a scout for the Washington Capitals. Given the acrimonious end to his relationship with the Canucks, it is unlikely he will ever come back to the fold. What still resonates is the fact that he was one of the few bright spots on a number of awful Canuck teams in the late-80s. A consistent scoring threat and an entertaining talent at Pacific Coliseum. Quite the return on the $1000 it cost the Canucks to send a scout to Finland in early 1981. And without a doubt the best Finnish Canuck draft pick of all-time.
With files from The Vancouver Sun, Province, and Jeff Rud’s Canucks Legends (2006)