When the Ottawa Senators traded Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks in the fall, the immediate roster changes were hard to justify. Karlsson was heading west, while just Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo would be suiting up for the Senators in 2018-19. While Tierney and DeMelo are fine players, they would need an outstanding season to replace the impact that Karlsson had in Ottawa. Beyond those two roster players the team also received a package of draft picks and University of Michigan prospect Josh Norris, who will need to be signed at some point before actually joining the Senators organization. The most interesting piece though in the entire trade may have just been Rudolfs Balcers, a 21-year old minor league forward who had found great success as a rookie in the AHL.
Today, after getting off to another great start in the minor leagues, Balcers was recalled by the Ottawa Senators. Originally selected in the fifth round given his unusual route to professional hockey, Balcers has turned into a legitimate NHL prospect that was leading the Belleville Senators in both goals and points through the first part of the season. Drafted out of Norway in 2015, the Latvian left winger came over to the WHL for the 2016-17 season and lit up the Canadian junior ranks, scoring 40 goals in 66 games. That touch around the net has continued with another 37 goals in 103 AHL contests.
It’s not that the trade hinges on the future of Balcers, it doesn’t. The Senators were in a situation where they felt they needed to trade their pending free agent captain, and received a big package that includes a top prospect like Norris and another first-round pick. But the deal could very well look a lot better down the line if Balcers continues to produce at the NHL level and turns into a legitimate top-six forward for the Senators. With the team facing more tough decisions on Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, both unrestricted free agents at the end of the year, there could be plenty of room in the 2019-20 lineup for a player like him.
The team has sent Jack Rodewald back to the AHL to make room on the roster.