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Keith Ballard - Taking that next step

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Interesting Article , Thought I'd share .

ST. PAUL, Minn. - It’s not hard to cheer for Keith Ballard, whose humility and sense of humour carried him after his game left.

The 30-year-old defenceman is never going to be the guy the Vancouver Canucks promised when general manager Mike Gillis sacrificed offensive prospect Michael Grabner and a first-round draft pick to acquire Ballard from the Florida Panthers in 2010.

On a good team, he is not a top-four blue-liner who will play 22-24 minutes a night. His strong skating cannot drive the attack and his competitiveness doesn’t change anyone’s game plan. What Keith Ballard turned out to be, besides a great teammate, is a steady National Hockey League defenceman.

His greatest fault is that the Panthers overpaid when they signed him to a six-year, $25.2-million US contract in 2009, and Gillis overpaid to get him a year later. And those two transactions created an expectation that was impossible for Ballard to fulfil.

After trying to be a player he is not, he is finally the player he needs to be for the Canucks.

“Part of the problem is I just was never really sure what I was supposed to do,” Ballard said Wednesday.

“I spent so much time last year on the mental side of things, working with a sports psychologist, because until I came here I never had any adversity in hockey. Going back to five years old, I just went out and played and didn’t worry about anything.

“I’ve put in so much work on the mental aspect of it that I feel like such a different person, on and off the ice. Coming into this year, I just felt like myself again.”

Ballard, who is from Baudette, Minn., should feel at home Thursday night. He’ll be playing against the Minnesota Wild in front of family and friends, albeit with a heart aching at the loss this week of his grandfather.

Ballard is one of the most “human” players on the Canucks.

He arrived from Florida still recovering from hip surgery and soon played himself out of coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup.

Last season, after regaining some confidence and reliability, Ballard suffered a concussion in February and missed the final 29 games of the regular season.

Since his trade, people have wondered how the team might get rid of him and his contract. But Ballard is still here and not only playing, but playing his best hockey as a Canuck.

He and third-year pro Chris Tanev have become so dependable as a third pairing, Vigneault no longer worries about his defence matchups. It wasn’t by accident Ballard and Tanev were on the ice in the final minute of overtime on Tuesday, when Tanev’s first NHL goal beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2.

Ballard hasn’t registered a point in nine games – his keep-in helped set up Tanev’s winner – but he co-leads the Canucks at plus-four. And his average ice time of 17:10 is more than Ballard logged in all but a handful of the 47 games he played last season.

“What he has stopped doing is chasing the game all over the ice,” Canuck associate coach Rick Bowness said. “So now the game comes to him and he’s in control.”

Bowness, an assistant coach in Phoenix when Ballard began his NHL career with the Coyotes, remembers the defenceman when he was a minor-league prospect during the 2004-05 lockout.

“I’ve known Keith a long time,” Bowness said. “What I remember from Keith ... we saw an earnest kid who wanted to learn and wanted to work and wanted to do well. You never forget those guys. You know deep in their heart, they really want to do well. And you want to see them do well. I’ve got a lot of time for people like that.”

Bowness said Ballard, an 11th-overall draft pick in 2002 who was traded twice before playing in the NHL, also tried to do too much in Phoenix before learning to play within himself. The same thing has happened with the Canucks, he said.

Tanev and Ballard are an interesting pair. Tanev, who was never drafted, hardly says a word and his game is equally understated.

Ballard is one of the most talkative guys on the team and is known on the ice, as much as anything, for periodically catapulting opposing wingers with his hip check.

Their partnership is unchanged since the start of the season, and Tanev and Ballard have been the Canucks’ most consistent defensive pairing. Tanev also is plus-four.

“He’s calm and patient and I’m a bit more abrasive, so there are some complimentary strengths there,” Ballard said. “But we communicate so well, on the ice and off the ice. Every morning after a game we’ll sit down at a computer and watch our shifts together and talk about little plays.”

That’s what Ballard is: a little-play defenceman. There’s nothing wrong with that. Thirty little plays a game will keep him in the NHL another eight years.

“My game fell apart for a year and it was a battle to get all that back,” Ballard said. “Last year, I focused on building my foundation back — being reliable and consistent and using my strengths. But I was very conservative last year. I wasn’t playing to just not make mistakes, but I wasn’t playing to make things happen. This year, we talked about taking that next step.”

Forward.

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

© Copyright © The Vancouver Sun

http://www.vancouver...8967/story.html

Read more: http://www.vancouver...l#ixzz2KE4dW3ck

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Pretty much knew all of this already as I've been a fan of Ballard for a long time and wanted him on this team since his rookie year. So happy that he is finally healthy and can play the game he wants to play. That was the main reason fans were all over his game because he was injured and wasn't able to actually play. Kudos to Tanev for being the defensive partner he needed. He never really had a partner he could get to know since he was either in the pressbox or paired another 6th or 7th d-man.

Looking forward to seeing some of those amazing passes and hip checks he is known for before he came to this club.

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I didnt know Ballard and Tanev are plus minus leaders, not surprising though

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Liking ballards play and attitude...... Just wish he was 2.2mill cheaper!!!!!

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He's been playing solid since the LA series.

Good to see him playing better, seems like a great funny guy.

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Ballard deserves more credit than he recieves. He and

Tan Man have been great!

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i love our 3rd defense paring, as much as 1-2 are really good, i never feel worried when kb4 and tanev are on the ice this year. they compliment each other very well.. maybe we can get his salarie cut like we did with Raymond.. i forget the term, but it was some process with salarie reduction..

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Why can't we give this guy some power play time?

Kevin Bieksa has not been good on the second power play unit. Logistically, it makes more sense to have a left-hand shot at the left point than a right-handed Bieksa.

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Ballard's hip checks are usually present when the team has a strong performance. I am not sure which comes first but maybe it is one of those things that gets the team fired up.

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Ballard's hip checks are usually present when the team has a strong performance. I am not sure which comes first but maybe it is one of those things that gets the team fired up.

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Thanks for the read :)

I always wished that he could be put in different situations and given the same leeway as every other player on the team, huge improvements thus far and he seems like a solid guy on and off the ice.

As others mentioned, the only fault with Ballard now is the size of his contract...we just won't be able to keep under the Cap next year with Ballard's contract on the 3rd.

Depending on the rest of the season, MG might have to decide if Ballard could be moved up and trading one of our top 4.... I'm sure one of our top 4 could fetch us a lot more in a trade than Ballard would.

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I love his hip checks, it's too bad that almost every one he's done has resulted in a clipping penalty going back two playoffs. Absurd.

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i'm still LOVING the behind the leg kick pass to sedin to set up tanevs 1st.

Ballard is solid.

currious what will happen to him after his current contract is up/ buyouts come round, could see it go either way

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So far this year, Ballard > Bieksa

I'd rather buyout Bieksa if he keeps under-performing after contract years. This guy should only be on 1 year contracts...

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So far this year, Ballard > Bieksa

I'd rather buyout Bieksa if he keeps under-performing after contract years. This guy should only be on 1 year contracts...

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I'd be really pissed off if they used the Amnesty Clause on Ballard..

Just wait till his contract runs up and re-sign him for cheaper.

I think we can last 2 years with his contract.. Once Malhotra/Alberts are gone, and I don't really know how i feel about Raymond atm.

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