The goal for defence in the defensive zone is to gain possession of the puck and initiate the offensive attack. In order to initiate effective breakouts, the defence must develop skating, puck control, passing, and read-and-react skills. While it’s easy to define a good defencemen, the task becomes a little harder to find such a player. But in Finland, the search is over. His name is Joni Pitkanen.
Pitkanen leads the Finns on the blueline. He has excellent size and just might be the best defenceman in the tournament. Pitkanen has all the required skills to be a star: he's good skater and playmaker, a quick decision-maker, and uses his body effectively. He is most likely to register hits by finishing his checks in the corners rather than standing someone up at the blueline, clearing the crease, or hitting in open ice. As he matures, he will fill out and add muscle to his frame. In short, Pitkanen has all the tools to be a top-flight NHL defenseman. He is already close to being NHL-ready, but he is still developing in the SM-Liiga .
Chosen fourth overall in the 2002 Entry Draft by the Philladelphia flyers, the top-ranked became just the second Finn taken among the top four picks, following goaltender and teammate Kari Lehtonen. He also was the second defenseman taken in the first round by Philadelphia, joining Jeff Woywitka of Canada.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a surprise, going to Philadelphia, but I'm very happy now,” Pitkanen said. “It’s a very good team and organization.”
Pitkanen has yet to play in a NHL game, but the future Flyers' defenceman already has a big-league surgical scar on his right knee. He underwent the arthroscopic operation in his native Finland this summer a surgery that prevented him from playing in an international tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y. Pitkanen will play the 2002-2003 season with Käärpäät and hopes to make his NHL debut in the 2003-2004 season.
Pitkanen was third in scoring among defensemen at the 2002 World Junior Championships, collecting a goal, three assists, and a bronze medal in seven games. He hopes that he will be able to add the second bronze medal here in Halifax in 2003 against the USA on Sunday afternoon.
“I would say that one of my assets is size. I' m quite big and that’s a good thing. Then, I guess, I’m a solid skater and I can handle the puck,” Pitkanen explained. “These would be my strengths. My weaknesses? Well, I need to make plays in the defensive simple, mistake-free. Just concentrate on defense.”
He likened his game to that of two-time Norris Trophy winner Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers. “I like to skate and play offense.”
Already a regular on the blueline of Kaarpaat Oulu, Pitkanen has also been star of Finnish junior teams for some time. He developed through the Kaarpaat junior organization, which he joined at age seven.