I’ve been chronicling my top five list of the greatest European Flyers of all time — talking about their time with the Flyers, career legacy, and what might have been. It was tough to narrow it down to five, and there are plenty of (very) honorable mentions.
We now approach the final place on the list of the greatest Flyers from Europe. However, for today’s article, I will not write about one player, but two.
# 1 Pelle Eklund and Ilkka Sinisalo
When I was planning out this series of articles, looking back on the plethora of European talent that has graced Philadelphia, I just couldn’t separate Eklund and Sinisalo in Flyers history. Both players indelibly represent the franchise during the mid-late 1980’s — Sinisalo started his Flyers career in 1981-82 and was joined by Eklund in 1985-86.
In Finland, playing for HIFK (Helsinki), Sinisalo forged his reputation as a reliable goal scorer. However, he largely went unnoticed as NHL teams did not scout heavily in Finland at the time. Despite this, the Flyers signed Sinisalo as a free agent, and he would go on to lead the franchise in goals from a European born player, netting 199 times in nine seasons. Ilkka’s shot was both accurate and speedy allowing him to score 30+ goals twice, as shown in this clip from 1982 against the Hartford Whalers:
Meanwhile, in Stockholm, Sweden, Pelle Eklund was playing for AIK of the Allsvenskan (Swedish First Division). While initially he put up average point totals, he would eventually score 49 points in 35 games in his last season (before he would return to Sweden years later). Noticing his talents, the Flyers drafted Eklund 161st overall and he would immediately prove to be effective. Eklund was an above average playmaker on the wing, and he would top 50 assists three times in his career. His play perfectly complimented linemates Rick Tocchet and Peter Zezel. But, as this clip shows, Eklund could score goals as well:
Setting aside the pair’s accomplishments, where their legacy may be the most evident is ideologically. Though they were both part of the 1986-87 Flyers that played the Oilers’ dynasty in the “greatest ever” Stanley Cup Final, the fact that two European born skaters could impact the team in the way they did is extraordinary. Historically, the Flyers organization, in particular Ed Synder, had a contentious relationship with the Soviet Union, culminating with the 1976 Red Army Game. Though both Finland and Sweden were not affiliated with the USSR, the integration of both Eklund and Sinisalo helped pave the way for future Russian skaters to play for the Flyers.