Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A New Face In The State Of Hockey: Keith Ballard

Keith Ballard
208 lbs
Shoots: Left
Born: November 26, 1982
Birthplace: Baudette, Minnesota
Acquired: Signed a 2 year, $3 million deal on July 5

The first move the Wild made when free agency started was signing Baudette native Keith Ballard to a two year deal. We all remember Ballard from his playing days with the University of Minnesota, helping them to two national championships (2002, 2003) in his three years at the school.

Ballard scores the first goal in the 2002 National Championship

Ballard was a first round (11th overall) selection of the Buffalo Sabres back in 2002. Before he even signed a pro contract he found himself traded twice (Buffalo to Colorado, Colorado to Phoenix), and was the main prospect being moved in both deals. Over the course of his career, Ballard ended up in two more trades, being moved to Florida and then Vancouver.

As a defenseman with Phoenix and Florida, Ballard was a solid top 4 defenseman. He was an asset at both ends of the ice, and added some physicality to his game as well. But it all seemingly went away in Vancouver as he found himself on Alain Vigneault's bad side, seeing his production and role with the team diminish to almost nothing. Ballard was bought out at the end of the 2012-13 season because the team thought so little of him.

Ballard was making $4.2 million per year (as both salary and cap hit to the team), which obviously made him an easy candidate to buy out. His contract with the club is another example of a low risk, high reward type of situation. He adds depth to a blueline that, besides the top pairing, struggled for a majority of the 2012-13 season.

Ballard got the great Sidney Crosby to drop the gloves

He brings good veteran presence to a roster that seemingly gets younger by the day, and still has a good physical presence to his game. The key for him will be finding that overall greatness he once had with Phoenix and Florida. If he can even get halfway back to that level, the Wild already got a huge bargain from this deal.

For those counting at home, Ballard becomes the third Minnesota born player (Zach Parise, Nate Prosser) on the Wild's roster heading into the 2013-14 season. And I'm guessing that number is still not enough for some of you...

Welcome back to the Team of 18,001 Keith Ballard!

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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