Joni Pitkanen's reputation among Carolina fans is a mixed bag. On one hand, I've heard a lot of people call him the "back-bone" of the team's defense and a big offensive threat. Others have called him a liability in his own zone and someone that plays way more minutes than he should. Then you have that group who see Pitkanen as a solid all-around defenseman but not exactly spectacular in any area. That's probably the best explanation of his game and we need to take that into context when thinking of expectations for the 28-year-old Finn.
I'm going to get this out of the way early, Pitkanen's offensive game is not anything too special, especially on the powerplay. He's a solid puck-mover and can provide offense from the blue line but anything above 40 points seems unlikely. A reason for this is because he's had to take on more defensive responsibility the past four seasons and he's actually made a pretty nice transition, in my opinion. He was drafted by the Flyers as an offensive defenseman in 2003 but around the time when he joined the Oilers, he was asked to take on tougher assignments. His point total in Edmonton was pretty low as a result and he was traded to the Canes for Erik Cole. Here's where things get interesting....
|Season||EV Points||5v5 GFON||OZone%||Corsi Rel|
Pitkanen was put back in a more familiar role during his first season in Carolina and he only recorded 19 points at even strength and 33 overall. The next year, he was given tougher assignments due to injuries on the blue line and he had his highest point total since 2005-06. Last year was similar to 2008-09 where he was put back into more of an offensive role and recorded only 35 points. Really interesting how that turned out. Now we wonder what will happen this season. With the arrival of Tomas Kaberle, will Pitkanen's offensive responsibilities be decreased and effect his point total? Or will this be a repeat of 2009-10? I don't think either will happen because you first have to factor in the loss of Joe Corvo, a defenseman who took on tough assignments AND helped the powerplay. That's where I see Pitkanen stepping in. That or have him stay in the same role as last year and have Bryan Allen play the tougher minutes. Pitkanen has a big enough frame to play tough minutes and he's done it before so I see no reason why he can't this year. Yes, he's prone to a lot of mistakes but what defenseman on this roster isn't? Also, Kaberle does a good amount of his damage on the powerplay and Pitkanen's abilities there are slightly overrated.
Those numbers are average to sub-par for powerplay production in case you were wondering. Pitkanen is actually more solid offensively 5-on-5 than he is on the powerplay. He has been involved in 36.6% of his team's goals over the last four years, which is really good for a defenseman. What this means is that Pitkanen will be one of the key factors that dictates how successful Carolina will be offensively this season.
For Pitkanen's comparables, I searched for defensemen who entered the league at 20 years old with some experience in other leagues. I also tried to find defensemen who have scored at least 50 goals over their careers as Pitkanen's reached that mark already.
I don't think it's likely that he will get to 51 points like Numminen did but the general range isn't too far-fetched for what Pitkanen could produce this season. It has him reaching the 40 point mark if he plays in all 82 games but unfortunately, he's never done that in his career. I would still be satisfied with him having a point total around 35-40 if he plays in about 70 games.
Considering that his role from last season could change a bit and the fact that he's never been that stellar on the poweprlay, I see Pitkanen's box-car numbers staying in the same area as they were last year. However, if he sacrifices his offensive game to become a more steady, defensive blue-liner then I will completely fine with the trade-off. He will likely need to do this with kids like Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy in the system. Kaberle will put less of a burden on him to create offense from the back-end and he could possibly see his minutes decrease from playing less on the powerplay. He will still get his chances at even strength and as history indicates, it will be where he does accumulates a good chunk of his points. All and all, I'm projecting a solid year for Pitkanen by my standards.
Statistics provided by Behind The Net Hockey and Hockey-Reference