Rudolfs Balcers did not take the leap that the San Jose Sharks were hoping for this season.
Last year, Balcers was a pleasant surprise. Plucked off waivers before the beginning of the 2020-21 season, the 2015 San Jose fifth-round pick emerged as a top-nine forward option for the undermanned Sharks, finishing seventh up front with 14:43 ATOI. His eight goals and nine assists in 41 games was good for a 0.41 Points Per Game average, good for seventh among San Jose forwards.
The 25-year-old, however, did not build on this breakout campaign in 2021-22. Despite similar ice time (15:02), the left-winger plateaued with a 0.38 Points Per Game average, notching just 11 goals and 12 assists in 61 games.
Based on San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner’s usage, Balcers didn’t exactly stand out in his eyes either, as the winger was moved up and down all four lines. Balcers’s most common linemate this season, however, was Tomas Hertl, which makes the Latvian’s offensive output all the more disappointing.
Balcers did begin to carve out a penalty-killing role for himself, averaging over a minute a game short-handed
Also in Balcers’s defense, it was a tough campaign for him in terms of staying on the ice. He missed 21 games because of a knee injury, COVID, a rib injury, and an undisclosed upper-body injury.
Looking ahead to next year for Balcers, he’s established himself as a legitimate NHL player, which is a significant achievement considering he was a late-round pick and a waiver claim. But is Balcers even a bona fide third-liner on a winning team? He needs to find more consistency to be that.
Balcers, by the way, agrees with the gist of that. At the end of season, he was asked what he was looking to improve next year: “Just more consistency. You just got to keep working on that. Just get back, build some more muscle.”
Balcers is signed for one more year at $1.55 million dollars AAV. He will be an RFA at the end of this contract.
“As the team gets better, and as we move forward, I think Rudy settles into a third-line left wing role, that could play both sides. That can be a penalty killer…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)
Balcers led all San Jose Sharks forwards with 4.27 Blocked Passes Per 20 at 5-on-5, which speaks to his engagement defensively.
“I don’t mind the player. He works hard. He’s got some skill, good hands, maybe not the most creative though.
“I actually see him as a little bit of what’s wrong with the Sharks. Not necessarily him as a player. But I think they fall too in love with their guys. Like they prioritize the fact that he came from them, getting him back on waivers, instead of simply getting a better player instead.
“Right now, on a championship-caliber team, he’s a fourth-liner.”
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