VANCOUVER – Defenceman Keith Ballard didn’t need much of an introduction to new teammate Maxim Lapierre, who the Vancouver Canucks acquired at the NHL trade deadline.
The two became acquainted in a fight when Ballard was with the Florida Panthers and Lapierre was a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
“It wasn’t much of a fight,” Ballard said with a smile after the Canucks practised Tuesday before their game with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“In that situation he was sticking up for a teammate who I had hit earlier. That’s a good sign. He’s one of those guys you don’t like to play against, but you like having on your team.”
A Vancouver team that already has proven to be very good believes it got a little bit better by obtaining Lapierre and forward Chris Higgins in trades Monday.
“We were a good team,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “I think we are more complete, more balanced now.
“We’ve given ourselves more depth through our lineup. It should help us as we move forward.”
The Canucks went into Tuesday’s game against Columbus with the best record in the NHL.
Vancouver acquired Lapierre from Anaheim, along with minor-league centre MacGregor Sharp, in exchange for centre Joel Perrault and a third-round pick in the 2012 draft. Higgins came from Florida for defenceman Evan Oberg and a third-round pick in the 2013 draft.
Higgins, who is still recovering from a broken thumb, wasn’t scheduled to arrive in Vancouver until later Tuesday.
In Lapierre, the Canucks get a six-foot-two, 207-pound centre who isn’t afraid to hit and can agitate other players with his trash talking.
Higgins, who is six foot and 205 pounds, also brings size and the ability to play on any line. The 27-year-old has shown a scoring touch, having scored 20 or more goals three times in his career.
Centre Ryan Kesler said the two players strengthen Vancouver’s lineup.
“It makes our potent offence that much more dangerous,” he said. “We don’t have any weaknesses. We like that feeling.
“We’re going into games knowing we are going to win. It’s just how.”
Forward Alex Burrows is happy the Canucks made some additions without subtracting from the team. Both Perrault and Oberg were minor leaguers.
“We have such a good team chemistry here,” said Burrows. “Everybody gets along really well. We didn’t want to lose anyone.
“It’s nice to see management felt the same way and added a couple of pieces.”
While Canuck players said all the right things, some red flags have been raised about Lapierre.
He started the season in Montreal, making his trade to Vancouver his third team in a year. In 21 games with the Ducks, the 25-year-old had just three assists and nine penalty minutes.
In 38 games with Montreal he had five goals, three assists and 63 penalty minutes.
“What happened in the past is over for me,” said Lapierre, who practised on Vancouver’s fourth line with Tanner Glass and Jeff Tambellini.
“You always trust yourself as a player. I have to be honest. I haven’t been playing my greatest hockey lately. I know I can help this team. I’ll do it during the playoffs. That’s my type of game.”
Lapierre had three goals and an assist in 19 playoff games for Montreal last spring.
Maybe more troubling, Lapierre has been compared to former Canuck Matt Cooke. Now with Pittsburgh, Cooke has a reputation for taking cheap shots and running his mouth after the whistle.
Lapierre was given a four-game suspension last March after cross-checking San Jose’s Scott Nichol into the end boards.
Canucks management made a point this season of telling Kesler and Burrows to concentrate on playing hockey and stop the after-whistle trash talking both used to relish.
Vigneault is confident Lapierre can adapt to the Canucks’ style.
“I had a talk with him this morning,” said Vigneault, who coached Lapierre in junior. “He’s not the type of player that takes a lot of penalties.
“He is the type of player who tries to get under the other team’s skin and gets them to take penalties. The perception people might have is he does talk a lot in between whistles. We are going to get him to play whistle to whistle, to play hard.”
Lapierre has heard the message.
“The rule here is you play between the whistles and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ll just play hard and finish my checks, play sound defensively and bring energy to this team.”
Daniel Sedin isn’t worried about Lapierre becoming a squeaking cog in the finely tuned Canuck machine.
“He’s a smart player,” said Sedin. “Everyone in here has really bought into what we are trying to do here.
“He’s going to do the same thing.”
Lapierre is looking forward to playing for Vigneault again.
“I had a great experience with him in junior,” said the native of St. Leonard, Que. “I played for him for three years. He’s the guy who taught me how to play hockey first.
“It’s great to be back.”
Lapierre broke into a grin when reminded of his past skirmish with Ballard.
“When two guys fight it’s because they did something right on the ice,” he said. “We haven’t talked about it yet but he seems like a great guy.”