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Florida Panthers lock up defenceman Keith Ballard with six-year extension @NHLdotcom

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers have made Keith Ballard a cornerstone of their blue-line for years to come.

The 25-year-old defenceman signed a six-year extension on Tuesday that will keep him under contract with the Panthers until 2014-15. Terms of the deal weren't released. Florida acquired Ballard from Phoenix in the off-season trade that saw former captain Olli Jokinen go to the Coyotes.

The Panthers expect big things from him.

"Keith is a talented, puck-moving defenceman that plays a robust style, who will play a pivotal role on our team for many years to come," said Panthers GM Jacques Martin. "Since we acquired Keith at the draft this year, it has always been a top priority to reach a long-term extension with him.

"We are very pleased to have reached this agreement prior to the start of training camp and we are confident that he will play a major role in the future success of the Florida Panthers."

Ballard will earn US$2.5 million in the final year of a contract he signed with Phoenix before the extension kicks in next summer.

He's one of five Panthers players now signed long-term, joining defenceman Bryan Allen and forwards Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz and Stephen Weiss.

Ballard was selected 11th overall in the 2002 draft by Buffalo and has played 233 career NHL games, all with Phoenix. He's scored 19 goals and 87 points while amassing 243 penalty minutes.

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