ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Clayton Stoner talks like a California surfer. Laid back, drops the word, "dude," every now and then and even rented a place on Newport Beach.
"I should be able to fit in here, I guess," said Stoner, a longtime Wild defenseman who will play his former team for the first time Friday night as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. "I'll get a surfboard and make some friends on the beach [next summer]."
In a summer full of monster contracts for hard-hitting, stay-at-home defensemen, Stoner, 29, a Wild third-round pick in 2005 who played 227 games for Minnesota, signed a four-year, $13 million deal with the Ducks on July 1. That tripled his $1.1 million salary with the Wild.
The Wild hoped to replace Stoner with former Wild defenseman Willie Mitchell, but the Florida Panthers blew Minnesota's contract offer out of the water by handing Mitchell, now their captain, a two-year, $8.5 million contract.
"I kind of just felt like I needed a change from Minnesota," Stoner said. "Nothing against it. Just sometimes change is good for somebody and keeps you motivated for a new team, new teammates and a good opportunity here."
Stoner already has stitches on his left eyebrow from being checked into the glass. He has gotten into a couple scraps and is on a Stanley Cup contender that returns from a 3-1 road trip to play the Wild in its home opener.
"Minnesota's pretty beautiful this time of year," Stoner said. "This is probably my favorite season there, but coming home to 70 degrees after being on the East Coast is pretty nice, too.
"[Playing the Wild in the home opener] makes it more exciting to play the game. I love those guys so much that it probably will be more smiles at them. I'll be playing as hard as I can like I do every night, but after playing for so long with those guys, it'll be fun."
Stoner joked he looked forward to checking his old buddy Kyle Brodziak "because he probably wouldn't get too mad at me," although Brodziak may be a healthy scratch Friday.
Stoner said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau hadn't yet asked him for background on the Wild.
"I'm surprised. I thought he'd been asking for my expertise," Stoner joked.
Former Wild winger Dany Heatley won't play Friday with a groin injury. The 33-year-old looked good Thursday though, saying, "It's the California sun. Keeps you young."
Coincidentally, Heatley was Stoner's closest friend on the Wild yet gave him no heads up he would be signing a one-year, $1 million with the Ducks nine days after free agency began.
"It's always nice to have a familiar face in the room and somebody you look up to, you respect, you trust," Stoner said.
Ballard to play
Wild coach Mike Yeo said defenseman Keith Ballard, scratched the first two games, will be paired with rookie Matt Dumba against the Ducks. Nate Prosser is expected to make his season debut on Sunday against the Kings.
"I don't want to go three weeks into a season and all of a sudden we need a defenseman and they haven't played," Yeo said of Ballard and Prosser. "They have no foundation, they've got no base for a season. All of training camp would be pretty much a waste. We've got a team here, too. We don't have a bunch of guys and a few extras."
• Retired Ducks center Saku Koivu watched his brother, Wild captain Mikko Koivu, practice at the Ducks practice facility Friday.