RALEIGH, N.C. – It's not easy keeping up with Joni Pitkanen.
The Carolina Hurricanes' 6-foot-3, 210-pound horse of a defenseman munches minutes in a way that few in the NHL do. Last season his 27:22 per game led all players in the League. This season, coach Paul Maurice has him down to a calmer 24:53 per game, ranking him 10th overall.
The problem the Hurricanes have had is finding a partner who can keep up with Pitkanen. In struggling to find the right fit, Maurice went through all three of his right-side defensemen -- Joe Corvo, Jamie McBain and Anton Babchuk -- during the first six weeks of the season.
None quite worked out the way the Hurricanes had hoped, so General Manager Jim Rutherford -- never one to sit idle when his club needs something -- shipped Babchuk and forward Tom Kostopoulos to Calgary late last month for defenseman Ian White and forward Brett Sutter.
In the 26-year-old White, who played for Maurice in Toronto, the Hurricanes believe they have the right fit to play alongside Pitkanen on their top pair -- as much as matching those minutes is possible. White has averaged 23:20 in six games since arriving in Carolina, including a 27:36, plus-1 night in first appearance for the Hurricanes at Pittsburgh.
Overall, he is minus-3 since arriving, but he was even until Monday's 4-1 loss to Dallas when he went minus-3 -- and, as Rutherford and Maurice put it, the whole team had a bad night.
"It's hard to find defensemen that you can trade for that can play in your top four at this time of the season," Rutherford said. "We were fortunate to be able to do it."
The 'Canes were able to do it because of the situation in Calgary, where the struggling Flames are last in the Western Conference and were looking for some salary cap relief. Carolina took on about $650,000 in extra salary in the deal.
For White, the trade came as a blessing. In his sixth season, the Manitoba native has played all of his NHL hockey in the crucible of Canadian markets, where every detail is scrutinized under a microscope. He said the pressure to win in Calgary this season exceeded even that of his years in Toronto, with its
massive media presence.
"It was big-time refreshing to come here," White said. "I know most of the guys there aren't having a whole lot of fun now. It's not fun when you're losing, especially all of the pressure and stuff there. It was a very, very stressful first two months of the year there for me. Hopefully for them, they
turn it around, but, if not, it's going to be a long year. ...
"We were always rebuilding or trying to rebuild when I was in Toronto, so I don't know how high the bar was set, but in Calgary the bar was set really high. They wanted to win. We had a great hockey team there as well, so it's sort of baffling why they're not doing better."
He doesn't have to worry about that any more. What he does have to worry about is trying to help to get his Hurricanes, who entered Friday's games ninth in the Eastern Conference and six points behind Southeast Division rival Atlanta for the final playoff spot, into the mix.
Rutherford said he acquired the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder for his skating ability and to round out the Hurricanes' defense.
"When you're a defenseman who can skate and go back and get the puck first, you're going to have an advantage ... and he can do that," Rutherford said. "He can go back and get it first and he can move it."
White's career numbers attest to his puck-moving ability. His points totals over the last four seasons have been 26, 21, 26 and 38, including a career-high 13 goals last season. He also was a plus player in three of those four seasons despite being on teams that did not make the playoffs.
Maurice coaches White not only with the Leafs in Toronto but also with Marlies in the American Hockey League and has gotten to watch his development up close.
"He developed very rapidly into a really -- 'reliable' is the word -- kind of guy," Maurice said. "I had him in the minors and he had worked out all summer and he had learned that [he needed to do that]. So he came back in better shape and he was immediately a better player, but he still had to go through the two or three years that a young, not a big, defenseman go through.
"He's smart and 'usable' is the word. You can have him kill penalties. You can have him run some things on your power play. He's quiet because he's not a big guy -- he's not out running people -- but he's very, very effective."
In Carolina, White has is still adjusting to playing with the horse that is Pitkanen. In the past, he has played the role of the defenseman who jumps into the play -- but now he has to cast a watchful eye on what his partner is doing first.
"It's been a change," said White, who added that his transition to Carolina has been smooth because he played it under Maurice in Toronto. "I had normally been paired with a more stay-at-home guy and he's the opposite, so it's more of a learning curve. But with any new partner you have, it takes a while to get used to their tendencies and how they like to play and where they're going to be at certain times. So he's getting used to me and I'm getting used to him. But each game you get under your belt you get better."
It's something the Hurricanes are counting on to get back in the playoffs after a year off.