The Carolina Hurricanes signed Joni Pitkanen to a three-year contract extension Tuesday, plucking a potentially sought-after defenseman out of the impending free-agent market.

Pitkanen, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, will earn $4.5 million per year in his new deal. The 27-year-old led all Hurricanes defensemen in assists (30) last season and was second in points (35).

"Joni has been a very important part of our defense as he plays in all situations," Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. "He plays a lot of minutes, and is one of the top puck-movers in the league. We are very pleased that he wanted to return to the Hurricanes."

The Oulu, Finland native ranked 13th in the NHL in average ice time per game (25:01) last season and the Hurricanes earned points in 26 of the 30 games in which he had a point (21-4-5).

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenseman was originally drafted by the Philadelphya Flyers as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

In 483 career NHL regular-season games with Philadelphia, Edmonton and Carolina, he's accumulated 51 goals, 205 assists and 456 penalty minutes. In 39 career Stanley Cup playoff games, he's recorded 13 assists.

Pitkanen was acquired by the Hurricanes on July 1, 2008 in exchange for Erik Cole -- who is now a Carolina teammate, but is set to become a UFA on Friday. He won a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games with Finland.