College Hockey:
Ballard Signs with Phoenix

— Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard, a 2004 Hobey Baker Award finalist, signed today with the Phoenix Coyotes, foregoing his senior season.

According to his agent, former Minnesota skater Ben Hankinson, Ballard received a $1.2 million signing bonus, and the rookie maximum of $1.185 million per year for three years.

“Keith Ballard was arguably the best defensemen in NCAA hockey in 2003-04,” said Phoenix general manager Mike Barnett. “He was a critical inclusion in our trade with Colorado late last season. … We look forward to watching Keith develop and contribute to winning in a Coyotes uniform.”

As a junior, Ballard missed seven games early in the season with a knee injury, during which Minnesota went 1-5-1. But he came back to spark the two-time defending champions to a run to a WCHA tournament championship. Minnesota was knocked out of the NCAAs in the Midwest Regional final by Minnesota-Duluth. Ballard was a first-team All-American.

Ballard was orignially drafted in the first round, 11th overall, by Buffalo in 2002. His rights were dealt to Colorado, and then to Phoenix on March 9 in the trade that also brought defenseman Derek Morris to Phoenix for center Chris Gratton, defenseman Ossi Vaananen and a second-round draft pick in 2005.

The 5-foot-11 Ballard had 11 goals and 36 points last season in 37 games. He was on the U.S. team that recently won a bronze medal at the World Championships.

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