Noon has passed, so free agents in the NHL are free to negotiate with teams. One of the first deals announced: Carolina sends Erik Cole, one of the league’s best power forwards, to Edmonton in exchange for defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Cole had been widely speculated to have been on the move because of Carolina’s weakness at the blue line. PItkanen, a big puck-moving defenseman from Finland, was the 4th overall pick of the 2002 draft and had 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) in 63 games for Edmonton last season.
In addition to the Cole/PItkanen swap, Carolina also announed the signing of former defenseman Anton Babchuk to a one-year contract for $1 million. 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 26 points (9g, 17a) 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 (2 points) in four playoff games.
Acquired by Carolina from Chicago during the 2005-06 season in exchange for Danny Richmond, Babchuk (6’5”, 212 lbs.) has notched 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). He also tallied one goal and six assists (7 points) in nine AHL contests. Chicago’s first-round pick (21st overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Babchuk had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 39 NHL games in 2005-06, and served as a “Black Ace” during Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup championship.
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