We continue our series where Canucks Army will profile various players of interest leading up to the new season.
Before the free agency party that saw Dan Hamhuis land in their laps, Mike Gillis got the party started at June’s Entry Draft by acquiring Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich for Michael Grabner, Steve "Death to Scoring Chances" Bernier and a 2010 1st rounder (Quinton Howden). Some fans bemoaned letting Grabner go, but in exchange Vancouver received a player they didn’t have in the playoffs: a healthy, all-around defender who has of the few righthanded shots on the team. Now – like Ed Jovanovski and Roberto Luongo before him – the hope is he can come to a hockey mad city and develop into a dependable piece on a winning team.
Ballard played for the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for three seasons (leaving the school as the 7th best scoring defenseman) before Buffalo selected him 11th overall in the 2002 Entry Draft, four slots behind that Joffrey Lupul character and two ahead of Alexander Semin. He wasn’t long for Buffalo as he was moved in 2003 to Colorado for Steve Reinprecht and then again with Derek Morris to Phoenix in 2004 in exchange for Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen and a 2nd rounder in 2005 (Paul Stastny). In his first season he scored 8 goals and 39 points which remain his best marks to date (he tied his career best in goals last season). In 2008 he was on the move again, this time with Nick Boynton to Florida in exchange for (….trying…to…stifle…laughter…) Olli Jokinen.
Counting Stats: 8g-20a-28pts
Quality of Competition: 0.105 (1st amongst Florida defensemen)
CORSI Rel QoC: 0.858 (1st amongst Florida defensemen)
5×5 GFon/60: 2.38 (3rd amongst Florida defensemen)
5×5 GAon/60: 2.73 (6th amongst Florida defensemen)
5×4 GFon/60: 5.56 (2nd amongst Florida defensemen)
5×4 GAon/60: 0.37 (5th amongst Florida defensemen)
4×5 GFon/60: 0.57 (4th amongst Florida defensemen)
4×5 GAon/60: 7.64 (7th amongst Florida defensemen)
At $4.2 million per through 2015 and a NTC, the easiest knock against Ballard will be his contract (thank you Jacques Martin). You could argue a host of hypotheticals, the most logical seeming to be Ballard was plan B in case Hamhuis never made it to free agency. Adding both players robbed Vancouver of cap space obviously, but also of upgrading at forward during a time when they knew Burrows needed surgery and could start on the LTIR.
Regardless, what we do know is that Ballard – while not a marquee defenseman – is a considerable upgrade to Vancouver’s defensive depth. Last season he was tied for Florida’s defensive lead in goals (8) and third in points while also leading all Panther blueliners in hits (156), second in takeaways (18), and the best guy on the team (hell third best in the league) at blocked shots (201). Some of his other advanced stats aren’t pretty, but he didn’t have the best supporting cast in Florida either. He far and away led the Panthers in defensive zone starts last season, so he’s had experience with the Ovechkin’s and Kovolchuk’s of the world. He’s durable, having missed only 13 games in five seasons, mostly due to a fractured hand in 2006. By all accounts on the interwebs he’s a truly hard worker on every shift. Lastly he’s pretty feisty; if he does that to Malkin in Vancouver he may get a street named after him. If not all he needs to do is quietly bring a similar level of dependency and work ethic to Vancouver that he has shown in Florida, add 20-30 points and it should be considered a win.