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Preview/Lines #81: Where Can Balcers Get Better?



Credit: AP Photo/Darren Yamashita

No surprise, Rudolfs Balcers will be joining Team Latvia for the World Championships, starting May 13.

But before he gets to Finland, the 25-year-old winger assessed his up-and-down season with the San Jose Sharks, and what he’s looking to add to this game next season. Balcers is signed for one more year at $1.55 million dollars AAV.

“There’s a stretch where I feel pretty good about myself, about my game,” Balcers said. “And there’s a stretch, there’s not a lot happening.”

Balcers has battled various injuries this season and has played everywhere from the first to fourth lines. But San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner likes where Balcers is now, on the third line with Thomas Bordeleau and Noah Gregor.

“Sometimes we put him in, unfairly, a top-six role, whether it be a Tommy’s line or Cooch’s line,” Boughner said. “Rudy is more of a straight-line player, and I think if you give him less pressure to have to go out there and be a skill, finesse guy [he’s better].”

Balcers has 11 goals in 59 games, but he bemoaned the ones that didn’t go in.

“All year, I’ve had chances,” he pointed out. “There’s 20-plus goals this year if they go in.”

Officially, Balcers has hit five posts/crossbars this season, tied for second on the San Jose Sharks with Logan Couture and Noah Gregor. Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl top the team with nine apiece.

“Sometimes, when you’re put into a role where you’re supposed to be, I think it’s easier on him. You don’t have to change your game,” Boughner said. “He’s a north-south player, his skating is really, really strong.”

He elaborated: “That happened to Rudy earlier this season. If you remember back, first 10-15 games, he had so many chances that he didn’t capitalize on or he hit a post or he missed an empty net. You could tell, he was beating himself up a little bit and he felt that pressure.

“You change your game a little bit. If you’re a straight-line guy, you put yourself on Tommy Hertl’s line and Timo’s line, those guys are more creative. They’re cutting to the middle, trying to create time and space and things like that.”

Balcers acknowledged much the same thing: “It gets personal at times, you get in your own head. You think too much, especially when the game doesn’t go your way, [the way] you want it to go.”

Things are going Balcers’s way now. Since he’s lined up with Bordeleau and Gregor, that line has arguably been the San Jose Sharks’ most dangerous. In the last six games, per Natural Stat Trick, Balcers-Bordeleau-Gregor have combined for 32 Scoring Chances at 5-on-5. San Jose’s top line, comprising of Hertl and Meier, and either Jonathan Dahlen or Alexander Barabanov, has 35. When you consider how much more Hertl-Meier play, that speaks to the Bordeleau line’s offensive impact.

“His best hockey has been as of late which is a good, positive sign,” Boughner offered. “If you can take how he’s played in the last two weeks, and try and replicate that throughout the season?”

Both Boughner and Balcers believe he has another level.

“Just more consistency,” Balcers said. “You just got to keep working on that. Just get back, build some more muscle.”

“I think he can be more physical,” Boughner observed. “He could be on the inside a little more, on a more consistent basis.”

San Jose Sharks (32-36-12)

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Puck drop between the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers is at 6 PM PT at Rogers Place. Watch it live on NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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