When the San Jose Sharks drafted Rudolfs Balcers in the fifth round, 142nd overall, in 2015, he’d just come off a championship title with the Stavanger Oilers of the Norwegian League. In just 12 games during that championship run, Balcers tallied 14 goals and 9 assists, making him a nearly two point per-game player.
From the start of his career, Balcers’ offense has been impressive. At 14 years old, he began with the Lorenskog Under-17 team in the Norwegian League and racked up 24 points in 21 games. He went on to lead the Under-18 team in scoring the next year, with 20 goals and 37 points in 26 games. In 2013-14, he made his professional debut with the Vikings and scored 58 points in just 22 games.
The gamble that the Sharks took in 2015 is that he’d never played outside of European leagues.
After the Sharks drafted Balcers and he won another championship with the Stavanger Oilers, the then-19 year old was taken 43rd overall in the 2016 CHL import draft. The 2016-17 season was the real test for Balcers; could he adapt to North American hockey?
The answer appears to be an overwhelming yes. In 66 games with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL, Balcers notched 77 points, leading both his own team and all WHL rookies in goals (40). He also finished 4th in assists (37), 3rd in points, and first in game winning goals (7) for all rookies. Balcers was an easy finalist for the WHL’s rookie of the year, winning the title for the Western Conference.
It would appear that Balcers’ offense holds up in North America. The Sharks signed him to an entry-level contract this summer.
This season with the Barracuda will be an important one for Balcers. As a 20 year old in the WHL, he mostly played against younger competition, which won’t be the case in the AHL - as the Barracuda learned the hard way during the Western Conference Final last year. At 5’11” and 165 lbs, he’s on the small side for the American League, as well.
Balcers proved he can play our style of hockey; now he has to prove that he can play our competition, too.
Name: Rudolfs Balcers
Age (as of 9/9/17): 20
Position: Left Wing
Last Year’s Ranking: N/A
2016-17 Team: Kamloops Blazers, Western Hockey League
Where he’ll (probably) be next year: San Jose Barracuda
What we like
Balcers is naturally offensively minded and his quickness to adapt to North American play is promising.
What to improve on
The biggest challenge for Balcers will be continuing to excel in North America as he faces higher levels of competition and players who are larger and stronger than he is currently.
If this highlight reel tells us anything, it might be that a good working game strategy is “Get the puck to Rudolfs.”