Are you familiar with that saying about how if you let someone go, and if they come back, then it was meant to be? That would accurately describe the relationship between the San Jose Sharks and Rudolfs Balcers.
Originally selected in the fifth round (142 overall) by the Sharks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Balcers worked his way up in the Norwegian league’s Stavanger Oilers system, playing for the U18, U20 and senior club in his draft year. He spent most of that season on the senior squad, where he scored 8 goals and 13 assists in 43 games, before joining the U20 squad for their playoff run, playing 12 games and scoring 14 goals. Though his point totals weren’t massive, the fact that he cracked the Oilers’ senior team at just 17 years old is impressive on its own.
Leaving the Oilers after the 2015-16 season, Balcers came to North America to join the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers, where he put the Sharks on notice, leading the team in goals (40) and finishing just one point behind Deven Sideroff in points (77). That summer, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson decided he liked what he saw, signing Balcers to an entry-level contract.
In his first professional season with the San Jose Barracuda, Balcers made quite the impression, leading the team in both goals (23) and points (48). To put into perspective how good Balcers’ rookie season in San Jose was, the second-place finisher in points was Adam Helewka (remember him?), with 38 points.
A few days before training camp began the next season, Doug Wilson swung for the fences, landing two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators, sending Balcers the other way to Ottawa. The winger made his NHL debut that season, but wasn’t able to solidify himself as an everyday option for the Senators, splitting time with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Belleville Senators, for the next two seasons.
And then something funny happened.
Before the truncated 2020-21 season began, the Senators placed Balcers on waivers for re-assignment, and wouldn’t you know it, the Sharks put in a claim. After some work visa issues caused him to miss the beginning of the season, Balcers joined the Sharks’ line-up and has not looked back.
If the 2020-21 season wasn’t proof enough that Balcers had what it took to be an NHL player, then 2021-22 removed all doubt. Despite missing time due to injury, Balcers played his best season at the NHL level yet, tallying 11 goals and 12 assists, but wasn’t without troubles. It wasn’t the leap that the Sharks were hoping to see from Balcers, but there’s no doubt that he’s there to stay at the NHL level. While this is his final year of eligibility on our Top 25 Under 25 list, odds are that we have yet to see the best of what Rudolfs Balcers can do.
What We Like
Take it from Brent Burns:
“You can see right away he’s got a lot of skill, very poised with the puck, makes great plays. He’s got a lot of high-end skill, that one-on-one skill that you can see right away. I think he’s taken that role and he’s done well with it.”
In the last Top 25 Under 25 Balcers was featured in, Lachlan Irvine had high praise for Balcers’ speed, saying, “His speed in all departments (shots, skating, etc.) makes him stand out among his AHL peers.”
It also makes him stand out at the NHL level — courtesy of Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now, here Balcers uses his speed to get past Michael Stone, before delivering Nick Bonino a drop pass, which then leads to a goal from Jayson Megna.
Sharks head coach Bob Boughner also relied on Balcers on the penalty kill throughout the 2021-22 season. “If he can be a full-time penalty killer, play on a good team on a third line, chip in offensively, he’ll have a heckuva career,” Boughner said back in April.
Areas of Improvement
The biggest need at this level is consistency. As previously noted, despite his sixth-highest average ice time among Sharks forwards, Balcers shuttled all throughout the line-up, from the first line to the fourth line. Of course, some of those struggles can be attributed to injuries derailing his season, but the 2022-23 season will surely require a more consistent performance.
In addition, when Balcers was last on this list, he weighed in at only 174 pounds. Since then, he’s put on a little more muscle, presently weighing in at 181 pounds, but he himself would tell you he needs to put on some more beef.
“Just more consistency ... You just got to keep working on that. Just get back, build some more muscle,” Balcers said to Peng ahead of the regular season’s penultimate game.
Rudolfs Balcers lead the charge from start to finish‼️ pic.twitter.com/wIk5kIqbrF— NHL (@NHL) March 25, 2021
This clip from last season showcases some of the best of Balcers, from his blistering speed on the rush, to his playmaking ability, to his finishing.