Erik Karlsson was finally traded on Thursday after months of ongoing speculation. Many people are struggling to make sense of the return that the Ottawa Senators received in exchange for the veteran Swede alongside Francis Perron. Say what you will about the trade, this article is not about who won the deal, it is about one piece in particular that the Senators received in Rudolfs Balcers.
Most people have most likely never heard of Balcers. He is a lesser known prospect. The Latvian native was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 5th round (142nd overall) at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
In his draft season, Balcers spent the majority of the season playing in Norway’s top flight league for the Stavanger Oilers. While he did not make it the full way through his first professional season, the Latvian left-winger scored eight goals to go alongside 13 assists, making for 21 points in a total of 36 games played.
In seven games played with the Stavanger Oilers U20 team in the Norway U20 League, Balcers recorded nine points. What is even more impressive is what Balcers did during the playoffs for the Stavanger Oilers U20 team. In just 12 games, Balcers scored 14 goals and added 9 assists but in the end, the team still lost in the finals.
In his second full season playing in the top league in Norway, Balcers played 43 games and recorded 15 goals and 9 assists in that span, totalling up to 24 points. In the playoffs, Balcers continued to impress by posting 10 points in 17 games. His contributions in the playoffs helped his team win the Norwegian Championship.
Rudolfs Balcers decided to leave Norway following the conclusion of the 2015-16 season to take his career to North America to play in the WHL for the Kamloops Blazers. Balcers left Norway with many accolades to his name. During the 2012-2013 season while playing for the Viking Hockey U18’s, Balcers won the Norway U20 Silver medal.
In 2013-2014, Balcers scored 35 goals in the Norway U18 league which was the highest total in the league as a result of that season. Rudolfs Balcers also won the U18 WJC (D1A) Gold Medal upon the conclusion of that season. The 2014-2015 season also happened to coincide with Rudolfs Balcer’s NHL draft season, a year in which he received the Norwegian Champion, the Norway U20 Silver Medal and the U20 WJC (D1A) Bronze Medal as well.
It was his first of two championships in Norway’s top league as Balcers won the Norwegian championship at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 regular season as well. He also won the gold medal at the U20 WJC (D1A).
Upon having joined the Kamloops Blazers to get his first taste of professional hockey in North America, the Blazers became the primary owners of Balcers’ rights after he was selected 43rd overall at the CHL Import Draft. In his rookie season in the WHL, Balcers finished the season second in team scoring with 77 points in 66 games played which was only one point behind the team leader Deven Sideroff who recorded 78 points in one more game played than Balcers. Balcers did have the most goals on the team however and finished 11th in terms of goals league-wide with 40 on the season.
He scored the most goals out of all rookies in the 2016-2017 WHL season. To make this even more impressive, no other WHL rookie has scored more goals than Blacers since Scottie Upshall scored 42 back in 2000-2001. Although it can be argued that Blacers had an advantage as an overeager which is arguably true, it still was his first time ever playing on North American ice and he succeeded tremendously.
The 2017-2018 season was arguably Balcers’ best season of his career. He took his game to the next level and suited up for the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League. It would be the first time that Balcers played hockey against men at the professional level on North American ice and he did not let down.
He led his team in scoring with 3 goals and 25 assists in his rookie season in the AHL. That is extremely impressive for a 21-year-old with no prior experience playing in the AHL in addition to having never before played with any of the players on the Barracuda team prior to the season. Balcers had 10 more points than the second highest scorer on the team, Adam Helewa, who ended with a total of 38 points recorded.
Balcers can be credited as the main reason why his team made the AHL playoffs and lasted until the quarterfinals. He led his team in scoring in the postseason as well with 4 points in 4 games. Balcers ended up on the All-Star team which was well deserved for his performance during the season.
Rudolfs Balcers continued his strong season at the World Championship. He led Latvia in scoring throughout 8 games played by recording 4 goals to go alongside 2 assists. Although that might not seem like a lot of points compared to other top scorers at the championship, it is extremely impressive considering the fact that Balcers was the youngest player on the team and led the team in points which as a result helped lead Latvia to the Quarterfinals.
It is also impressive considering that Latvia does not have the same number of skilled players that teams like Canada And the U.S. have as well as the fact that Balcers is only 21-years of age playing against some of the best players in the NHL without the same tier of linemates that the top teams possess. The fact that he was able to perform shows that he might genuinely have a chance to play against players in the NHL and it increases the odds of Balcers making the NHL soon.
By looking back at Rudolfs Balcers career, there are a few things that come to mind. First is that Balcers is amazing at adjusting to different leagues and situations very quickly. No matter how old he was or how much time he had spent in whichever league he played, he always seemed to adjust very well and made himself comfortable.
He proved time and time again that he could take whatever challenge is thrown at him and he can succeed pretty much anywhere. The second thing that I really noticed about Balcers was his goal scoring abilities. He seems to be best at goal scoring and doesn’t seem to have any issues with it no matter what league he plays in and no matter what the competition level is.
Rudolfs Balcers is expected to start the 2018-2019 season in the AHL with the Belleville Senators. I, however, would not be surprised to see Balcers make the Senators NHL team out of training camp. The Senators have many holes in their lineup and with Jean-Gabriel Pageau injured for the foreseeable future, Balcers may be able to crack the lineup as another current roster player is tasked with suiting up in his place.
Even if Balcers does not make the team out of training camp, he may be one of the first to get called on from the minors if a player on Ottawa gets injured. Overall, do not be surprised when you turn on your television and see Rudolfs Balcers skating as a member with of Ottawa Senators at some point this season.
In general, the Erik Karlsson trade may not have given the Senators exactly what fans were hoping for, but one player that they should definitely keep an eye on this season is forward Rudolfs Balcers.