SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers dropping Niinimaki into mix

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

Beep! Beep! Make way for Jesse.

The Edmonton Oilers have signed centre Jesse Niinimaki to a one-year AHL contract with the intention of having him finish the season with the Edmonton Road Runners.

While the Oilers have not formally announced the signing of Niinimaki, the team's first selection, 15th overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, it was reported on a Finnish website and later confirmed by team vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast yesterday.

"It's done from their end," Prendergast said of the signing. "I would think it'll be official by (today). "We'll get him here and see how his conditioning is and take it from there."

Niinimaki, 21, who has been playing with Ilves Tampere in Finland, is expected to arrive in Canada by the weekend and, pending filing the proper paperwork with immigration, could join the Road Runners during the team's current road trip.

The likeliest scenario is that Niinimaki, who has tallied 4-4-8 in 18 games with Ilves this season, will skate at Rexall Place for a day or two after his arrival, then meet the team on the road.

"His progress hasn't got to the point that's sufficient for us," Prendergast said of the reason for bringing Niinimaki here. "We think getting him here and having him around our players will help make him better."

Niinimaki, a six-foot-two, 180-pound pivot, was in Edmonton at the end of last season to do rehab with the Oilers medical staff after shoulder surgery.

The Oilers took a bit of a flyer on the lanky Finn in 2002 by taking him in the first round. He wasn't ranked among the top 30 Europeans that summer.

AROUND THE RINK: After meeting with team doctors yesterday afternoon, it's been determined forward J.J. Hunter won't need surgery as a result of the dislocated right shoulder he suffered against Syracuse Tuesday. The expectation is Hunter will be out two or three weeks. He'd have been out at least three months if surgery was needed.


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