Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #13: Rudolfs Balcers

Latvia’s Rudolfs Balcers slides into the thirteenth spot for this year’s Top 25 Under 25 ranking.

13. Rudolfs Balcers (Reader Rank: 16, Previous Rank: 9)

Rudolfs Balcers enters this year’s rankings four spots lower than our previous list - despite a season which saw him demolish the competition for the Belleville Senators. This shouldn’t be seen as a devaluation of Balcers as a prospect but, rather, the impact of a further strengthened prospect pool in Ottawa.

Balcers, as we know, came to the Senators organization as part of San Jose’s hefty payment for Erik Karlsson. Coming in, the left winger was fresh off an AHL season where he eclipsed the 20 goal mark. His 0.52 primary points per game in that season with the San Jose Barracuda ranked him seventh for DY+3 players in the AHL, behind the likes of Dylan Strome and Jack Roslovic but ahead of Anthony Cirelli, Colin White and Filip Chlapik. The potential for future NHL production was definitely a factor in GM Pierre Dorion ensuring Balcers came to the organization through what many agree to be the biggest trade in his career.

Fast forward to the 2019-20 season, Balcers came into training camp and performed very well. Many believed he was a lock to make the Senators roster before suffering an MCL tear in a pre-season game. This forced Balcers to sit out for two months before returning to the ice, slotting in with the high flying BSens as a top line winger. For most players, this would be the first step in a long road back to NHL form. For most players, it would take a few outings to shake off the rust and get back into game shape.

Rudy is not “most players.”

Balcers entered the BSens lineup on November 15th against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, notching two goals - including the overtime game winner - and contributing four shots in the match.

The point production didn’t stop there, however, as Balcers went on to register at least one point in every single game from November 15th until Boxing Day. Yes, you read that correctly. Balcers started the season on the injured reserve list, rehabbed, came back and had at least one point in 15 straight games (6 goals, 16 assists). This is now the BSens franchise record for longest point streak. He finished the season with 36 points in 33 games with Belleville while getting recalled in January and contributing a goal and two assists through 15 games with the big club.

Heading into this season coming, whenever it may come, Balcers is one of the players at the top of the list to secure a job on the left side in the top 9. Jokke Nevalainen of Dobbers Prospects notes that Balcers’ time to establish himself as a full-time NHLer (or not) is this season, following the buy out of Bobby Ryan and the club parting ways with Anthony Duclair. On the same profile, Balcers’ PNHLe - a model which projects a players production at the NHL level - has him as a 35 point player, based on his historical production in Norway, the WHL, AHL and NHL. This is a pretty typical stat line for a third line winger and what I think we can expect from Balcers as we move forward.

This year, Balcers was afforded the opportunity to join his old club in Norway, the Stavanger Oilers, and he has basically been their go-to player for literally everything. The left winger has been regularly slotted in as their first line centre, playing in all situations, and producing fifteen points in ten games thus far.

As you can see, this is a post full of praise for a prospect who dropped in these rankings. The fact of the matter is Ottawa added two prospects who will debut ahead of Balcers - but I won’t tell you where! - and a few prospects who also had great seasons and made a jump past him.

With a season of opportunity ahead for many prospects, Balcers will be in a tight battle to line up on the left side of this group. Past the lock that is Brady Tkachuk, the Sens left side is far from solidified. Balcers will be battling with the likes of Nick Paul and likely both of Tim Stuetzle and Alex Galchenyuk. That being said, you also have Alex Formenton to consider here. He did, after all, make his NHL debut as the youngest player to debut for the Sens.

Based on his age and contract status, however, the Senators would be wise to give Balcers every opportunity to prove he is, in fact, a solid NHL player this season. After all, at 23 years old and with 143 AHL games under his belt, we’re getting to the “now or never” part of Balcers’ player development.

As a devout member of the Balcers Fan Club, I hope we get to see him flourish in Ottawa.

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