Is Rudolfs Balcers a top-six forward for the San Jose Sharks?
In terms of productivity and skill, he’s got a good argument.
He’s seventh among San Jose forwards with 0.44 Points Per Game, behind, naturally, the Sharks’ clear top-five of Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Kevin Labanc. Ryan Donato is a shade ahead of Balcers at 0.45.
More impressively, he’s fifth with 1.87 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5, behind Labanc, Kane, Couture, and Hertl.
As for the eye test, Balcers and Donato have comparable skill, but Balcers is better defensively. Dylan Gambrell and Matt Nieto are more trusted, but they’re defensive specialists, lacking anything close to Balcers or Donato’s offensive upside.
On one hand, what a coup by Doug Wilson, to pluck a possible top-nine forward from waivers. On the other hand – let’s be honest – Balcers is not in the conversation for top-six forward on a deeper team.
That’s not a knock on the 23-year-old forward, who’s revitalized his career after being released by Ottawa. He’s a clear NHL talent — this isn’t his first impressive game.
We saw some of that talent on display early in last night’s 4-0 loss to Arizona.
00:03 Balcers (92) uses his speed to cut off Jason Demers (55), who’s trying to come out of the corner.
00:15 Balcers is battling with Jordan Oesterle (82) in front of the net. Look how hard he’s working to get open: He feints toward the high slot, before cutting back to the paint. As a Brent Burns (88) shot-pass skitters forward, Balcers stick checks Oesterle, making sure the shot gets through and Adin Hill has to make a save.
00:25 The Latvian winger ferrets out a loose puck off the wall.
00:30 Off the Tomas Hertl (48) tip, Balcers beats John Hayden (15) to another loose puck.
00:38 So far in his brief San Jose Sharks stint, Balcers has shown a nose for finding the soft spots. He finds it between four Coyotes. That is a hard pass for Hertl to complete though.
00:42 But as Hertl circles the net, Balcers is right time, right place for the rebound. It’s not counted as a shot, but it looks like Balcers snaps it off Hill.
According to the league’s play-by-play sheet, Balcers was a non-entity on this shift – no shots, shot attempts, hits, etc. – but that’s obviously not accurate. When he’s on, he’s fast, strong, and tenacious on the puck.
That’s the good. But there’s a bad – remember that Balcers, before this year, had just parts of two NHL campaigns under the belt. The 23-year-old still has something to learn, in terms of consistency and maturity.
It’s not just the two minor penalties that he took, which blunted the San Jose Sharks’ momentum in a must-win game – it’s the body language:
That’s, frankly, immature – the play is still going, you have to keep your feet moving. To Balcers’s credit, he does get back into the play, but this is clearly a learning moment.
As I noted, on a good team, he shouldn’t be your sixth-best forward, not even arguably.
But good news for the San Jose Sharks? If the impending RFA reaches his potential, he’ll be well worth the wait.
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