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Draft Day 1 Complete: Dale Tallon Talks Picks, Ballard

Draftend LOS ANGELES – Dale Tallon was perhaps the busiest person at the Staples Center on Friday as the new Florida general manager lived up his his reputation as a wheeler and dealer.

Tallon made two trades on Friday, one to move down in the draft and acquire a later pick. His first trade, however, was a little bigger.

The Panthers sent defenseman Keith Ballard and forward Vic Oreskovich to Vancouver in exchange for forwards David Bernier and Michael Grabner.

That deal brought the Panthers their third first round draft pick of the night.

With the third overall pick, Florida took defenseman Erik Gudbranson. The Panthers also took centers Nick Bjugstad (19th) and Quinton Howden (25th).

“We feel great, it was a great turning point for our franchise,'' said Tallon, the architect of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. “This was a very successful day at the draft. We filled some needs with some good young players. I'm very elated with what happened today. I'm elated.''

The Ballard deal broke just before the draft started, but didn't become official until late in the night. Vancouver made the deal conditional on the 25th pick and could have used the selection if it so wanted. In that case, the Panthers would have taken Vancouver's first round pick next year.

Ballard came to the Panthers in Florida's 2008 draft night blockbuster, the one in which Jacques Martin sent captain Olli Jokinen to Phoenix in exchange for Ballard and defenseman Nick Boynton. Ballard then promptly signed a six year deal with the Panthers before ever suiting up for them. The money is one reason Ballard is off to Vancouver.

Ballard has five years left on his deal worth $4.2 million each season. The Panthers saved about $2 million next year as Grabner and Bernier make considerably less money. Tallon said Ballard was “in big demand,'' with 10 teams asking about him.

“Money always comes into play, but that wasn't the reason for this,'' Tallon said. “I talked about assets that are tradable. You can't trade guys who aren't wanted. We need to fill a lot of needs and you have to make decisions to fill the depth chart and go in the right decision.''

Last year was a rough one for Ballard after his infamous hit on teammate Tomas Vokoun. In a loss in Atlanta, Ballard went to smash his stick across the goal cage in frustration after a Thrashers goal. Ballard instead hit Vokoun in the head, sending the Panthers goalie to the hospital.

Vokoun ended up being fine and the two joked about it on the plane ride home.

News of the potential trade broke Thursday night when it was learned St. Louis had interest in Ballard. In a text message on Saturday morning, Ballard joked that he wasn't going to sweat things out. Instead, he spent the day golfing in Minnesota, “trying to chase down birdies.'' After the trade, he said it was a bittersweet day.

“I wanted to be part of the solution in Florida,'' said Ballard. “I'm going to a great hockey team in a great city with a chance to win. Initially, the idea of being traded I didn't like. I wanted to help build the team in [Florida]. But in the past 24 hours, it prepared me. I wasn't shocked.''

The Panthers picked up two good young forwards in the deal, with both becoming restricted free agents after the upcoming 2010-11 seasons.

The trade was just another big deal conducted by the Panthers around the draft. Last year, Randy Sexton traded Jay Bouwmeester's negotiating rights to Calgary. Roberto Luongo was traded to Vancouver in 2006, Tomas Vokoun was acquired in 2007 and Jokinen was shipped off in 2008.

Tallon previously traded Nathan Horton to Boston for defenseman Dennis Wideman and the 15th overall pick in Friday's draft. The Panthers then traded the 15th pick to Los Angeles for No. 19 and 59.

By taking Gudbranson, the Panthers found a defenseman who may be able to help them next season. Gudbranson, however, isn't taking anything for granted.

“I want to be there really bad. I think I can make a difference right when I get there,'' Gudbranson said about the Panthers. “Certainly I'm going to have to do a lot of work. There are some great players there and it's going to be a lot of competition. I understand I'm going into that camp even par with the seventh round pick taken. You know it's going to be great competition. It's going to be tough to make that team.''