Joni Pitkanen is the Carolina Hurricanes' highest-paid defenseman. He can skate like the wind, he's strong, he plays big minutes, and he can produce points.

In other words, there's much to like about the Finn's game.

And yet, Pitkanen at times can be a hockey enigma. He will pass up a good shot for a tough pass. He doesn't have a lot of the big, bone-crunching hits. He will float out of position defensively, leaving others to scramble.

At 27, Pitkanen has played almost 500 regular-season and playoff games in the NHL. At season's end, he's due to become an unrestricted free agent and could command more than the $4.5 million he's making this season.

"He's at that age where he's still improving," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "He's coming into his prime, not leaving it, or at the peak of it."

As the NHL's Feb. 28 trade deadline approaches, there may be teams that make interesting offers to the Canes for Pitkanen. As for Pitkanen, he insists he would like to sign a new contract and stay with Carolina.

"It has been 21/2 years, and it has been great," he said in an interview. "It's a great organization, great fans and great people here.

"It's a beautiful area.

"All are good things. Absolutely, I would like to stay here."

A year ago, Pitkanen led the NHL in ice time per game (27 minutes, 22 seconds). He had a career-high 40 assists, eighth-best among NHL defensemen, and matched his career high with 46 points.

That's the kind of play the Canes were expecting when they traded Erik Cole to the Edmonton Oilers in July 2008 to obtain Pitkanen. A former first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers - the fourth overall selection in the 2002 NHL draft - Pitkanen was deemed a player with unlimited potential, and general manager Jim Rutherford said he might put up 60 points in a season.