Keith Ballard

Burns effect? Canucks d-man Ballard ‘loves’ playing wing


Could the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks be onto something?

Just a short while after the Sharks moved defenseman Brent Burns up front, the Canucks began skating blueliner Keith Ballard as a winger after injuries sapped their forward depth.

Much like the Burns move, it’s working.

“I love it,” Ballard told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s fun, it’s just different, right. It’s a different challenge. You’ve got a bit different responsibility. I don’t know how long it’s for, but I am fine with it.”

What was supposed to be a one-time thing — Ballard debuted at forward against Phoenix on Thursday before returning to play D against LA on Saturday — might turn into something much more.

Sunday’s game in Colorado marked Ballard’s second game as a winger and he responded with arguably his finest performance of the season, registering an assist, four shots on goal and a team-high three hits in 12:48 of ice time.

Ballard skated with Alex Burrows and Andrew Ebbett against the Avs (Burrows scored the game-winner, Ebbett and Ballard assisted) and provided a spark, much like Burns has in San Jose.

Since making the move up front on Mar. 12, Burns has scored six points in six games for the Sharks and, even when not scoring, has managed to be an effective player.

He’s been pointless over the last two games, but still recorded nine shots on goal and three hits.

As for Ballard, the biggest plus from this experiment might be earned praise from Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault, who hasn’t always been the biggest Ballard fan.

Vigneault offered a rave review following Sunday’s win.

“That line with Burr, Andrew and Keith was real good all night,” Vigneault said. “[Ballard’s] a team guy, being versatile is a big plus for a player and he is able to play left wing.

“He did it two games and he did it real well for us in real tough environments and we’re really pleased with what he brought to the table.”

Note: Ballard’s time up front could be extended, as reports out of Vancouver say checking winger Dale Weise could be out for a while with a shoulder injury.

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”