Rudolfs Balcers and Josh Norris Profiles

Analysis

It’s a crazy time of year to write about the Sens (there’s so much material so I’m very behind on my MCU stuff). Beyond what follows I have a much delayed post about the Sens ECHL affiliate in Brampton (now no longer shared with Montreal), an article looking at Dorion’s trade history, and another post filled with general bits of news mostly about the rebuild (additional material from my initial post about the subject). This, however, is a look at the org’s newest prospects.

Ary posted a breakdown of newly acquired Rudolfs Balcers and Josh Norris (my own Coles Notes version was out a week ago). Ary’s article is an excellent read, although he admits he’s leaned towards the positive with Norris because he didn’t want the player facing fan wrath and he’s certainly received more negative press than Balcers (for pretty obvious reasons)–Varada has mentioned toxic fans, but we clearly go to different places for Sens opinions as most of what I see/hear are org apologists (I’ve seen nothing toxic, frankly). What new information has Ary brought to light in his article and how has it impacted my opinion?

Rudolfs Balcers

In my original article I simply summarized the scouting material on-hand (prior to the draft and afterwards); Ary quotes some of that, including one opinion from a scout I hadn’t seen before. Beyond that he provides some statistical data (beyond just the obvious numbers). He spends a lot of time on Emmanuel Perry’s NHLe numbers and given that I have little familiarity with that I can’t make much comment on it (other than saying translating minor league or junior production to pro is extremely difficult).

The aforementioned scouting report (written in June, 2016, the year after he was drafted) praises a few things: speed, shot, elusiveness; suggesting his primary need is strength. I didn’t specifically quote the Hockey Prospects appraisal from 2015, so let’s see how it compares:

In both competitions [IIHF U18 and U20] he was able to display his talent, and against his peers in Switzerland he was still dangerous offensively while facing the top nations in the World. Rudolfs is an impressive skater, possesses deceptive speed and he is able to hit another gear apparently without further effort. His skills and skating allow him to get into good shooting positions and his wrist shot is legit. However, too often he doesn’t look determined enough to take his chances as soon as they come up. He looks weak physically and not overly competitive, getting softer as the game gets tougher, even if in April he did show some improvement in that area. He is a prospect that will need a long development path, but given his talent level he might be worth the wait.

It’s clear the only exposure HP had to him were the three international tournaments referenced above (no one is paying scouts to watch games in Norway), but the talent profile is exactly the same. His unusual route to the draft, btw, echoes Alexandre Texier’s from 2017 (playing in the French men’s league but noticed via international tournaments).

What about opinions post-2016? Blogger favourite Corey Pronman wrote about Balcers as part of his San Jose prospect profile on August 15th (prior to the trade) and said the following:

Balcers had a great first pro season, as the best player for the Barracuda, and had a decent World Championships with Latvia. Balcers is a skilled forward, but what stands out the most to me is his hockey sense. He has great vision and overall offensive instincts. He can play at a pro pace and show the intellect to make plays at both ends of the rink. He’s not a big forward and only an average skater, but he makes defensive plays due to his work ethic and hockey IQ. I have some skepticism on his overall upside when I pick apart his skill set, but he keeps producing at a high level.

Pronman then revisited the profile in the wake of the trade:

All he’s done is produce, though, at various levels and events. … Scouts love his skill and IQ, and while they acknowledge he’s not a very fast skater for his size, I’ve heard the term “darting” and “shifty” used more than once in describing how he gets around the ice. I think he plays and he could play soon in the NHL. He’s got talent and is versatile. His biggest backers in the scouting community think he can be a top-six forward. I’m more of the top-nine area right now with the caveat that he’s had some impressive moments in the past year that have made me reconsider. I’d just like to see a tad more speed in his game to get him to that range.

Clearly (like most scouts) Pronman’s only exposure to him in his draft year and the subsequent season was via international tournaments. Once Balcers made the jump to the CHL it became much easier for scouts to see him. One of the things that’s changed is the opinion about his speed: it’s gone from blazing to just average–with agility emphasized. The love of his shot continues unabated. The comment about his work ethic is new and refutes HP’s 2015 opinion (or, to be generous, illustrates a change).

I don’t think Pronman is wrong about his speed and that is of some concern. As long as he has the hands as advertised and is elusive, however, his NHL-potential remains. Pronman plays it safe projecting him as a top-nine forward, but certainly the top-six remains a possibility.

Josh Norris

I’m not that keen on Norris, as was undoubtedly clear in my summary about him, so what new insights do we have via Ary? Let’s first go to a comparison Ary doesn’t make that occurred to me after posting my initial thoughts: he and Johnny Gruden‘s remarkably similar numbers at the same stage of their development:

Norris (16-17): USDP 61-27-34-61/USNTDP 25-12-14-26
Gruden (17-18): USDP 61-28-32-60/USNTDP 25-15-19-34

I projected Gruden to be a marginal pro, but like Norris there are positive underlying numbers despite the underwhelming projections (the underpinning for Norris is the theory of reliance–betweenness–attempting (via numbers) to ascertain how dependent players are on their teammates (the metric being used seems a little simplistic to me, but it is interesting). There is, of course, a much higher ceiling provided for the first-round pick, so why is that? Reading the scouting reports I think its easy to figure out:

Steve Kourniasos (via Ary):

plays physical, is matched up against top players … plays a heavy game and uses his size and determination to win puck battles … Playing in traffic isn’t a problem for Norris … A talented, mature leader with an NHL-ready build

RLR:

Big center is a rugged banger who can do a little of everything … Goes hard to the net both with and without the puck. … Strong physical force who is also good on faceoffs and responsible defensively – strong on the backcheck and kills penalties. High character, you win with guys like him

International Scouting Service (ISS):

Very competitive, he is willing to play in traffic and to battle for possession … [Bryan Smolinksi] uses [his] body well with a little nastiness

Future Considerations:

He is strong on puck and works like a mule … tough to deal with along the boards and effective in the cycle game. … has the ability to throw a hit to create turnovers … his two-way game at a premium position should make him a nice compliment to a team’s bottom-six.

Hockey Prospects:

shows good compete and grit to his game when needed … plays physical … [NHL scout] I like that he makes himself a bit of a pain in the ass to play against
sometimes.

And what about Pronman in the here & now?

[First link] has good athletic traits

[Second link] [how] great an athlete he is and how coaches trust him in all the tough situations

The theme is: he plays a hard, safe game. This is pure adrenaline for the org who, especially since Trent Mann took over their amateur scouting, is the poster child for safe picks (indeed, an anonymous NHL scout quoted by HP literally calls Norris ‘a safe pick’ and Dorion himself has just mentioned a preference for safe picks). Norris has, in short, the sort of ‘truculence’ Brian Burke used to yammer about. This isn’t to say he’s a one-dimensional prospect, as Ary thoroughly explores his offensive skills, but concerns remain:

HP:

There is a lot to like in his game yet not a pure goal scorer with immense creativity and high-end skill [NHL scout] his big issue is consistency

FC

He has a good shot but has to do a better job of finding an open lane before attempting a shot, as it gets blocked a lot leading to the puck clearing the zone … He doesn’t have high-end offensive potential

ISS

3rd line center with offensive upside … [Dennis MacInnis] Not a lot of flash to his game

RLR

Doesn’t have the slick moves and puckhandling wiggle to beat defenders off the rush

Pronman

First link: has skill, but I wouldn’t call it high-end. There are stretches where he can fade into the background offensively … doesn’t have a ton of pace to his game

Second link: they [scouts who like Norris] also acknowledge his skills aren’t standout and he needs work. .. The more pessimistic scouts just don’t buy him having enough offense and projects out as a third-liner — tops. I tend to fall in the latter camp

Summarizing: he may lack talent–there are concerns that he doesn’t have the puck skills to provide more than third-line output, and you don’t need to trade (or draft) for that (especially when you have arguably a more talented player with the same profile in Colin White). Its clear one of the major motivations for San Jose in taking him so early (I had him ranked 43rd for the draft) was because of how good he was at the combine. This is a terrible way to assess a player and clearly San Jose had no problem jettisoning him as part of the deal–the Sharks have been very adept at finding third-line talent for free in Europe for years (Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson, Marcus Sorensen, etc), so it’s not a talent threshold of concern.

The Revised Prospect List

With all that information available, where do I two slot into the Sens prospect pool? Balcers slides in after Chlapik at #4 in the middle-six category (while he had a better rookie season the latter has better draft pedigree), while Norris gets the #9 slot behind Alex Formenton in the top-nine category. The forward top-ten would be:
1. Logan Brown
2. Brady Tkachuk
3. Filip Chlapik
4. Rudolfs Balcers
5. Drake Batherson
6. Gabriel Gagne
7. Colin White
8. Alex Formenton
9. Josh Norris
10. Andrew Sturtz

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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3 Comments

  1. […] Rudolfs Balcers and Josh Norris Profiles […]

  2. […] Rudolfs Balcers and Josh Norris Profiles […]

  3. […] Rudolfs Balcers LW 1997; 5-142/15 SJ AHL 67-23-25-48 0.71 Projection: 0.71 Played on a team with the same offensive challenges as the BSens last year, so there’s no reason to expect him to be any worse, although he was also getting top TOI which isn’t guaranteed here (thus I kept him around the same numbers). […]


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