When the Ottawa Senators traded Erik Karlsson last week they received a package of young players and future assets in return that, for the most part, was met with disappointment from fans of the team.
Rudolfs Balcers is the only prospect currently playing pro hockey who was part of the package, but he doesn’t hold anything close to the name value many were hoping Ottawa could extract from trading their superstar. But there’s a chance this fifth-round pick from Latvia ends up being the key to this deal.
It will be a while before we find out exactly how Ottawa did in the Karlsson trade, but here’s an early look at what kind of potential they’re getting in Balcers.
Weight: 174 pounds
Drafted: Fifth round, 142nd overall in 2015
KEY TO THE DEAL?
To be sure, there are other, more interesting young pieces here at first glance. The 2019 or 2020 first-round pick they get from the Sharks will need to hit, and Josh Norris, heading into his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, was the 17th overall pick in 2017 and is the highest-drafted player included here. Chris Tierney, 24, was a third-line centre who scored 40 points in San Jose, and could be given more opportunity with the Senators.
But there’s reason to believe Balcers can make this trade pan out, in some form, for Ottawa. While Ottawa pulled in better assets in terms of where they were chosen in the draft, Balcers as a fifth-round pick could make this trade work long-term for Ottawa.
He may end up as the best player coming back to Ottawa, period.
“Most of the reaction I’ve got is if there is a guy here who is going to be their best return, it’s Balcers,” Elliotte Friedman said on the day of the trade. “That he’s a guy who was kinda unknown, under-appreciated. He came over and had a really good debut AHL season. And they think he’s got a chance. They said if you’re a Sens fan that’s the guy you’re hoping for who turns out to be the top player you get back out of this deal.”
Balcers was the 142nd overall pick of the 2015 draft and he was chosen off the Stavanger Oilers of the Norwegian Hockey League. He returned to play for the Oilers one more season before crossing the ocean and joining the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers in 2016-17. He led the Blazers with 40 goals and then turned pro last season and led the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda with 48 points in 67 games.
STRONG SHOWING AT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Balcers represented his country Latvia at this past summer’s World Championship in Denmark and led them in scoring with four goals and six points in eight games. Latvia finished fourth in the group stage, which moved them into a quarterfinal match versus Sweden.
And although Latvia lost the game, they gave the Swedes a run for their money. With the Tre Kronor leading 3-1 in the third period, Balcers scored a goal with 10 minutes left in regulation to give his team a chance.
Balcers played 21:36 in that game, the most among any forwards on either side, and registered two shots on goal.
So what is the NHL scoring upside of a 40-goal WHL player and 48-point AHL player?
Keeping in mind Balcers is still just 21 years old, his prime years are still ahead of him. Fear the Fin, an excellent SB Nation Sharks Blog, wrote about Balcers’ potential NHL production level in his prime:
“Balcers, Balcers, Balcers. There isn’t much left to say about Balcers. As the Barracuda’s best player last season, he’ll almost undoubtedly see some NHL games this year. Using (Emmanuel) Perry’s NHLe and adjusting for peak age (25 years old), one projection method suggests Balcers might be a 51-point forward in his prime.”
For context, a 51-point performance would have come inside the top 100 forwards last season and is on second-line scoring levels.