The Ottawa Senators are heading into the 2019-20 season with a very different lineup from the one that started the 2018-19 season. The departure of high calibre players like Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel, means that the Senators’ younger forwards will have ample opportunity to move into greater roles. One of the newer additions, Rudolfs Balcers, is one of the more undervalued young Senators who will be looking for a full-time roster spot.
A restricted free agent (RFA) after this season, Balcers will try to earn a larger contract going into the following season. Last season, Balcers split his time between the AHL’s Belleville Senators and the NHL club. In Belleville, he registered 17 goals and 14 assists in 43 games.
This earned him a promotion to the NHL, where he notched five goals and nine assists in 36 games. He’s always been a disciplined player, with only four penalty minutes (PIMs) during his time in Belleville and another 10 in Ottawa.
Opportunity for More Minutes
As a left winger, Balcers ranks behind Brady Tkachuk and Anthony Duclair on the Senators’ depth chart. While knocking Tkachuk from the top left-wing spot is an almost insurmountable task, Balcers could compete with Duclair for the second line spot.
“We’ve got a chance to see some pretty good young players play for us. If you just look at a guy like Rudolfs Balcers, [and] how he’s played in the last 10 games,” – Senators General Manager Pierre Dorionfrom: ‘Senators GM Pierre Dorion asks for patience as rebuild enters its next phase’ – Ottawa Sun – February 22, 2019.
However, Balcers will need to take advantage of the minutes he’s given and ensure he stands out, as speedy 19-year-old Alex Formenton will also be competing for a role in Ottawa. Veteran wingers Mikkel Boedker and the recently signed Tyler Ennis will also be a threat as more established players in the league, which could interfere with Balcers getting more minutes. That being said, neither Boedker nor Ennis are particularly strong defensive players, so if Balcers works on his play away from the puck, it could help him lock down a full-time role next season.
High Offensive Upside
Balcers may not have had the highest point totals in his rookie season, but the tools are there for him to break out in a bigger way next season. Although his five goals scored last season are a small sample size, he gave an indicator of how he generates most of his offence. All of his goals came from in close to the net, whether through a deflection, nifty deke, or a quick shot using a burst of speed while entering the offensive zone.
Even if he wasn’t scoring goals, he was trying to get himself into open areas. Balcers is good at having defenders lose coverage on him, especially on the power play. He has a quick release that can be relied on during the Senators’ power play if the he’s given more opportunity. He has rapid acceleration that he can use to burn defenders off the rush, and will need to use that more in order to increase his scoring chances.
While Balcers hasn’t fully mastered his defensive game, he’s only 22 years old, and only has 36 NHL games to his name. His flashes of high offensive skill at the NHL level are appetizing, and if groomed properly, he has the potential to find a role within the Senators’ top-six.
“I would say I have a high expectation of myself and I want to be the best player out there every day. Maybe I surprised some people around hockey (last season), but for myself that’s what I expected. I want to establish myself in the NHL,” – Rudolfs Balcersfrom: ‘Tierney, DeMelo and Balcers skate with Sens for the first time’ – Ottawa Citizen – September 15, 2019.
Balcers made the statement above in September, and was able to land minutes on the fourth line with some time spent on the third line. However, an increased role, an offensive improvement, and improved defensive play could provide the Senators with a well-rounded depth scorer for years to come. Balcers wants to establish himself in the NHL. This upcoming season he’ll have the chance to.