It’s still early in the season, but Joni Pitkanen of the Carolina Hurricanes may be playing some of the best hockey of his career.

He’s healthy again. He’s again among the league leaders in ice time. He’s being used on the Canes’ top power-play unit. His body language is positive.

“I think he has been our best defenseman this year,” forward Jussi Jokinen said.

Canes coach Kirk Muller might agree. Muller said when Pitkanen plays consistently well, skating hard and making all the right decisions, he is one of the elite defensemen in the league.

“I think he can be up there among the top six defensemen,” Muller said. “He has the capability to be out there to kill penalties, quarterback the power play, be out there in all critical situations, like you need your No. 1 defenseman to be.

“Because of his skating ability, he covers a lot of space out there. And he’s big guy. That allows him to log a lot of minutes.”

Through Thursday’s games, Pitkanen was third among NHL skaters with 32.8 shifts per game and 13th in average time on ice at 25 minutes, 42 seconds per game.

Pitkanen, 29, has just four penalty minutes in the Canes’ 5-4 start and a plus-five rating. He has a goal and three assists, the goal coming against the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday.

“The first game of the season I was pretty surprised,” Pitkanen said. “I felt good. And it has been good.”