Upside to Oiler signing

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Defenceman Joni Pitkanen is thrilled to be in Edmonton.

Actually, he's just thrilled to be anywhere that isn't Philadelphia.

That he's getting a fresh start in Edmonton, where several Finnish countrymen before him had their best years, is just a bonus.

"I'm very happy to be coming to Edmonton, very excited," said the 23-year-old defenceman, whose relationship with management and fans in Philly had reached an uncomfortable end.

"I like the style of how they play and I've heard a lot of good things about the organization. They have a long history of Finnish players, from Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen to Janne Niinimaa and Jussi Markkanen. Those guys were my big heroes," said Pitkanen.

PLAYING IN CANADA

"I'm also excited about playing in Canada."

Pitkanen, who went fourth overall in the 2002 entry draft, had 13 goals, 33 assists and a plus-22 rating in 2005-06, but hit a wall this year. Often appearing aimless and confused in his own end, he was prone to the untimely mistake. He still put up 43 points, but was a whopping minus-25 on the worst team in the NHL.

"We had a very tough start to the season," he said. "Then there was the coaching change and the general manager left the team, a lot of things.

"Last season was very tough on the whole team, we had a bad start and things went badly."

A target of the media and the boo birds, he knew his time there was up. At the end of the season he moved out of his place, shed himself of most of his possessions and flew back to Finland to await news of his fate.

"I heard a lot of rumours. I was guessing it would happen, and I'm very happy that it did. Last year was a disappointing season, but I'm looking forward to this one."

He says don't give up on him yet.

"For sure. Last season was a bad season, but it's just one season. I think I'm ready to take the next step. Two years ago was a very good season. That's the focus, I think I'm ready to get back to that."

Flyers, and now Oilers, teammate Geoff Sanderson says the kid is a lot better than he showed last winter.

"He might have had a bit of a raw deal in Philadelphia, where they maybe expected more out of him too early," said Sanderson.

PLAYING TOO MUCH?

"He probably ended up playing too much. If he had played less minutes he might have been a better player, but they relied on him so heavily to do everything. Nobody had a good year last year. Our whole team was exposed."


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