NO PICK, BUT A PICK-UP
Despite all the conjecture and mock drafts over who might be available when the Canucks finally got a shot with the 25th selection at Friday’s NHL Entry Draft, nobody guessed that Mike Gillis would wind up with Keith Ballard and big-bodied winger Victor Oreskovich.
But that’s exactly what Gillis wound up with as he opted to deal the 25th pick to the Panthers (Brock Nelson), along with forwards Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner to acquire Ballard and Oreskovich.
“It came together late last night,” said Gillis. “What we like is that obviously we get a puck-moving defenceman who is at the right age and is signed for five years - which is one thing we wanted to get - and we got a player with size who has big upside, but hasn't been able to display it yet."
At 27, Ballard finished second among Panthers defencemen in scoring with eight goals, 20 assists and 88 penalty minutes last year. The Baudette, MN native was originally selected 11th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres and was the key player moved in the deal that sent Ollie Jokinen to Phoenix in 2008.
While Gillis admits he gave up some depth and talent in Grabner and Bernier, the need on the back end proved too great when a talent like Ballard became available.
“When you begin to look around at top three, top four defencemen who can play 22 or 24 minutes a game, they come with a steep price tag. We’re at a position now with our team where we have a number of young development players and have signed a number of college free agents, and our pick was at the end of the first round and we didn’t feel there were players there that could help us for a number of years.”
At 5’11”, 205 lbs, Ballard brings quickness, skill and toughness to a blue line that Gillis has identified as a priority following this year’s playoff loss to the Blackhawks.
"Last year we really missed Willie Mitchell in the playoffs. We also had other defencemean who got hurt and we had to push players into big minutes that weren’t completely ready for it. So we want to get our defence as balanced and deep as we can. I think we need another big forward that we can depend on to play in a shut down role and we'll be right there.”
And that’s where Oreskovich could eventually help. At 23, and with only 50 NHL games under his belt, the Whitby, ON native won’t likely step into a premier role with Vancouver next season, though he certainly has potential to make an impact.
“Oreskovich adds another dimension to our team; he’s got great size and skates very well. We think with the structure we can provide in Vancouver he has an opportunity to flourish.”
Drafted by Colorado in the second round (55th overall) in 2004, Oreskovich struggled to find a permanent position with the Avs and retired from the game for two seasons before signing a free agent contract with the Panthers last season.
Gillis was clear that Canucks fans can expect more moves in the following week as free agency period begins, especially on defence.
"We're not finished yet. We're going to look at every free agent that comes out but we're going to continue to concentrate on defence, as well as a couple of other players if they make it to free agency.”
Gillis on trading Michael Grabner:
“It was difficult but you have to include quality players or picks top get quality in return. That’s the nature of the NHL. To get a defencmen who is signed long term through his key period was vital to us.
Gillis on what he said to head scout Ron Delorme, who didn’t get a chance to make a pick Friday:
“It was rough, but I told him that his will still look as good on the Stanley Cup.”
Gillis on Ballard:
“He brings a real edge. He’s a puck moving skilled defenceman who plays real hard. He can play on the power play and can kill penalties. We felt that we wanted a defenceman who hit really hard and competed really hard and we got that.”
On the possibility of re-signing Willie Mitchell:
“We have some sincere interest in trying to get Willie back. He has been a real good player for this team. The whole issue is his health. Once we get to a point where we’re comfortable with his health and he’s actually participating and doing things at a really high level, we fully intend to talk to him and see if we can do something.