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Much-maligned Ballard isn’t quite so maligned these days

Feb 7, 2013, 5:32 PM EDT

Keith Ballard Getty Images

Prior to the season, Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard was called an “obvious buyout candidate” in the pages of the Vancouver Sun.

Today, in that same paper, he’s “finally the player he needs to be for the Canucks.”

Amazing how quickly things change in that city.

Granted, the player Ballard “needs to be” isn’t exactly a great player. According to the Sun, it’s merely a “steady National Hockey League defenseman.”

Since the trade that brought him to Vancouver on June 25, 2010, for a package that included Michael Grabner and a first-round pick that turned into Quinton Howden, the word “steady” would definitely not be used to describe Ballard’s performance.

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

Before coming to the Canucks, Ballard had played for two NHL teams, Florida and Phoenix. Suffice to say it was easier to fly under the radar in those markets than in Vancouver.

Ballard is still overpaid as a third-pairing defenseman with no points in nine games — the 30-year-old is signed through 2014-15 with a cap hit of $4.2 million.

But his improved play hasn’t gone unrecognized by the coaching staff.

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

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