The Florida Panthers have made an interesting free agent addition, signing Uvis Balinskis to a one-year entry-level contract. The deal is for the 2023-24 season, since he would not be eligible to play for them this year.
General manager Bill Zito released the following:
Uvis is a productive defenseman who has proven his impressive two-way skillset at an elite level in Europe. We look forward having a player of his caliber in our system.
Balinskis, 26, has been linked to the NHL for years now. In 2017, when Dan Milstein was hired as his agent, he said that the “NHL is next” for the Latvian defenseman after an impressive performance at the World Championships.
A contract in North America never materialized, and he kept playing in the KHL and then the Czech pro league for the next several years. While suiting up for Liberec Bili Tygri HC this season, he scored 35 points in 50 games. He also took part in the Olympics last year for Latvia, and is a very experienced puck-mover.
Whether he can crack an NHL lineup remains to be seen. The undersized defenseman will have his work cut out for him, though there will be some opportunity in Florida. Radko Gudas, Anthony Bitetto, and Marc Staal are all scheduled for unrestricted free agency, impacting the team’s depth chart.
It seems like a longshot, although it is a very low-risk one. The Panthers will lose a contract slot and a few hundred thousand dollars for the chance to see if Balinskis can make a smooth transition to North America.