9. Rudolfs Balcers (Reader Rank: 9, Last Year: N/A)
Like Colin White and Filip Chlapik the season before, Rudolfs Balcers is the latest forward prospect to split his season between the American Hockey League (43 GP) and the National Hockey League (36 GP). At 22-years-old, Balcers has continued to grow all aspects of his game, and has developed into a well-rounded player with solid, top-nine potential.
After leading the San Jose Barracuda in scoring with 23 goals and 48 points in 67 games in 2017-18, Balcers improved his goals-per-game (0.395 versus 0.343) and points-per-game (0.720 versus 0.716) on a more talented BSens squad. While you could be concerned with seeing his assist and shot totals drop, his NHL stint was on the whole positive despite his underlying metrics.
Balcers’ 14 points in 36 games has him on a ~30 point pace in a full season — the going rate for a solid third-line forward in today’s game — and you could expect that to increase as his teammates increase in quality. He saw his ice-time steadily increase as the year went on, and while one could argue that Boucher/Crawford’s usage was based on instructions from above, it’s good for Balcers that they chose to allocate minutes to him over the other talented rookies the team had available to them. Many of his shots came from the inside the faceoff dots, showcasing an ability to get to the net against NHL bodies that highlights an improvement for a player who needed to work on his strength throughout his career.
At the 2019 IIHF World Championships, Balcers led Latvia in scoring with 9 points (8 assists) in 7 games, tied with names like Alex DeBrincat and Nico Hischier. There’s nothing in Balcers’ history to take the comparison any farther than that, but it’s further evidence that he’s able to play his game among older, more talented players.
What can we expect from Balcers in 2019-20? He hasn’t been included in the list of players playing at the team’s Rookie Tournament, and his NHL games combined with his previous AHL success would lead me to believe that he has a leg up on the competition. If he’s with the big club, he’ll likely be playing with new linemates. Take a look at the far right column in the table above presented by the invaluable Micah Blake McCurdy. Balcers could line up alongside ex-Sharks teammate Chris Tierney, but all indications are that the other wingers he played with last season — Bobby Ryan and Mikkel Boedker — may see their roles decreased, while Magnus Pääjärvi is no longer on the team. On defence, everyone’s going to see a bit of time with Thomas Chabot, but what D.J. Smith does with his second-pair will greatly impact who’s feeding Balcers the puck from the back end.
It’s hard to make a concrete prediction given that he’s only played 371 NHL minutes on a poor team and will have a new head coach to work with, but in my piece last September when the Senators acquired Balcers, I noted the following on his potential:
Keep in mind that this is just one method for projecting the production of prospects, but a range of 36 - 51 points at the NHL level gives us a good estimation for what “prime” (age 25) Balcers may look like: good production for a complimentary second-line forward or a really good third-line forward.
A smart winger with good puck skills and a quick shot, I’ll be watching Balcers closely this season to see if he can put together a full campaign at the NHL level.