Ballard similar to Bouwmeester

WES GILBERTSON Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:57 PM ET

Keith Ballard moved from the Sunshine State to a hockey-crazed Canadian market and struggled to find his comfort zone.

Sound familiar?

Although the recently-relocated defenceman doesn’t necessarily see the similarities, Vancouver Canucks fans that have been disappointed with his performance so far should remember that his former teammate, Jay Bouwmeester, also needed some time to rediscover his old form with the Calgary Flames.

“I guess if you dug hard enough and looked hard enough, you could find some similarities,” Ballard shrugged after Wednesday’s morning skate at the Saddledome. “I only know as much as I read in the paper or whatever. I think people maybe look at Bouwmeester’s numbers and don’t think he’s having a great year or had a great year last year, but after playing with the guy for a year, he’s one of those guys that you don’t really appreciate until you play with him, how good defensively he is.

“I watched him play every night against Ovechkin, Semin, Kovalchuk. We weren’t a great team, but he made us very good in the sense that we could keep up with those teams.”

The Saddledome faithful are learning to appreciate the defensive skills of Bouwmeester, who, after a half-dozen campaigns with the Florida Panthers, arrived in Calgary last fall with a big contract and even bigger expectations.

Ballard, meanwhile, split the first five seasons of his NHL career between Phoenix and Florida before being traded to the Canucks this summer in exchange for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and a first-rounder. Although Dan Hamhuis was the high-priced free-agent acquisition, the arrival of Ballard was being billed as a big deal, too.

Hasn’t exactly turned out that way.

The 28-year-old with the five-year, US$21-million deal struggled to get in game shape after off-season hip surgery, missed five outings with a concussion and was eventually a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.

While Bouwmeester has already equalled his goal-scoring output from last season, Ballard finally scored his first as a Canuck in last Friday’s drubbing of the San Jose Sharks. Prior to Wednesday’s meeting with the Flames, he had yet to record an assist.

But Ballard refuses to blame his slow start on switching squads and cities, pointing to the NHL’s third star for November — Atlanta Thrashers defenceman Dustin Byfuglien — as proof it isn’t always a rocky road.

“It’s different for everybody,” Ballard said. “Some guys can do it and have no trouble and fit right in. I don’t think Dustin Byfuglien is having any trouble transitioning onto a new team, so it’s different for every guy. For whatever reason, whatever the factors were, it took a bit longer, but it’s still something that it just kind of a process. It’ll just continue and I’ll continue building.”

“The biggest thing for me was just struggling on the ice,” he added. “I didn’t have any issues or a hard time adjusting off the ice or being around the guys — the guys are great. You make friends pretty fast, so that was easy. The hardest part was just getting through the struggles on the ice and just keep moving forward.”

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca

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