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Hurricanes add defensemen Pitkanen, Babchuk

by John McGourty

Exactly one year after acquiring defenseman Joni Pitkanen in a trade from the Philadelphia Flyers, the Edmonton Oilers traded him Tuesday to the Carolina Hurricanes for left winger Erik Cole.

Pitkanen, 24, is a restricted free agent.

Cole, 29, is one of the strongest power forwards in the NHL and will fill the hole created earlier in the day when the Oilers traded left winger Raffi Torres to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center/right winger Gilbert Brule. Cole, a left-handed shot, can also play the off wing.

Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford had identified a need for a defenseman with some scoring potential to join a defensive cast that includes Joe Corvo, Nick Wallin, Tim Gleason, Frankie Kaberle and Dennis Seidenberg.

Veteran defenseman Glen Wesley recently retired and David Tanabe, limited to 18 games by a concussion, was placed on waivers June 23. The Canes also signed Anton Babchuk to a one-year, $1 million deal.

"Anton had a good year in the Russian Superliga," Rutherford said. "He played well at times with us two seasons ago and now, at 24 years old, it is his time to mature into a consistent NHL defenseman."

Babchuk, 24, spent the 2007-08 season playing with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superliga. He led all Omsk defensemen and ranked tied for fifth among Superliga defensemen in scoring with nine goals and 17 assists in 57 games played. His 17 assists ranked tied for fifth overall among Omsk skaters, and the Kiev, Ukraine, native also had one goal and one assist in four playoff games.

"Anton had a good year in the Russian Superliga. He played well at times with us two seasons ago and now, at 24 years old, it is his time to mature into a consistent NHL defenseman."
-- Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford

Babchuk was acquired by Carolina from Chicago during the 2005-06 season in exchange for Danny Richmond, Babchuk has seven goals, 19 assists (26 points) and 54 penalty minutes in 96 career NHL games with the Blackhawks and Hurricanes. He split the 2006-07 season between Carolina and Albany (American Hockey League), establishing NHL career-highs in games played (52), assists (12), points (14) and penalty minutes (30), ranking tied for third among Hurricanes defensemen in scoring and third among Carolina skaters in blocked shots (95).

The Flyers made Pitkanen the fourth-overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft and he joined the team for the 2003-04 season. He had three good seasons there but slipped in 2006-07 to four goals and 39 assists and minus-25. In his only season in Edmonton, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-handed shooter had eight goals and 18 assists and was minus-5.

Philadelphia traded Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson and a third-round draft pick in 2009 on July 1, 2007, to the Oilers for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul.v

In five NHL seasons, Pitkanen has 33 goals and 109 assists for 142 points in 269 games. He is plus-7 for his career.

Pitkanen has had a series of minor injuries. He struggled with knee problems from early in the season and also missed games due to back and hip problems. He struggled with abdominal strains and hip-flexor problems in Philadelphia.

Cole has rebounded well from the broken neck he suffered March 4, 2006, when Brooks Orpik sent him head-first into the boards. Cole made an amazing recovery to return in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final that year and helped the Hurricanes to the championship.

Cole had 29 goals and 32 assists in 71 games the following season but slipped to 22 goals and 29 assists in 73 games last year. He had a bad scare on Nov. 12, 2007, when he slid head-first into Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun and suffered another neck injury. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and missed four games.

In six NHL seasons, the former Clarkson All-American has 129 goals and 151 assists for 280 points in 418 games. He is plus-13 for his career.

The Oilers' depth chart now includes left wingers Moreau, Cole, Dustin Penner, Robert Nilsson, Curtis Glencross, Marc Pouliot and Geoff Sanderson.


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