GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Keith Ballard’s continued struggles resulted in the long-awaited Wild debut of defenseman Jon Blum on Thursday night.
Blum, a 2007 first-round pick of the Nashville Predators who signed as a free agent last summer to provide depth, played his first NHL game since April 27, 2013, against the Phoenix Coyotes. He logged nearly 13 minutes of ice time.
“That first game is pretty big,” Blum said beforehand. “I want to make a good impression and make it hard for them to take me out of the lineup.”
Blum, 24, played 91 games for the Predators over three seasons, scoring seven goals and 15 assists. He makes a good first pass, skates well and has sneaky skill. At the time of his recall from Iowa, he was tied for the AHL team’s scoring lead with 17 points in 31 games.
“He’s a right shot, which was important for us,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I think having a right shot on that right side will help some of the execution problems that we’ve had a little bit lately.”
Those execution problems have revolved a lot around Ballard, who has been scratched in two of the past three games. In 19 games since missing nine games with broken ribs, Ballard has two assists and is minus-13. Some glaring turnovers and icings led to his being benched the last half of Tuesday’s shootout win at Los Angeles.
“We’ve put him in kind of an uncomfortable position playing the right side,” Yeo said of the left-shot veteran. “If we can, when we get him back into the lineup, I’d like to get him back on the left side. If you’re fighting it and you’re playing the off side as a defenseman, you feel the pressure a little more, you don’t see your options quite as well, and you’re making a lot of plays from your backhand.”
Ballard was signed in large part because he had experience playing his off side. With Ryan Suter, Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner the Wild’s three left defensemen, it’ll be hard for Yeo to play Ballard on that side unless there’s an injury.
Giving it a try
Scandella played against Phoenix despite being nailed by Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s blast Tuesday. Scandella, who used to wear foot protection, said he will “100 percent” try the custom-made shot blockers GM Chuck Fletcher plans to provide.
“I used to wear them, but as soon as I took them off, I felt the difference,” Scandella said. “Also, when a shot hit them, it compressed and like exploded the puck. You never knew where the puck was going. But with all the foot injuries we’ve had, it might be a good idea to try them on again.”
Zach Parise, out with a broken foot, said Thursday in an e-mail from the Twin Cities: “I don’t like the big, clunky clear ones. I felt like they’re heavy and if you turn sharp, you feel like they’re going to hit the ice and you’re going to fall.
“I don’t think I would wear them at all unless they’re the ones that are custom-made to the foot and a lot smaller. Then I would consider it. I can’t believe that all three of us (Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon) in such a short time got hit.”
Wild right wing Jason Zucker was nailed above the right kneecap by Shane Doan’s shot late in the third period. He had trouble leaving the ice but, after four stitches, was walking after the game and said he would be fine.