Two former WHL wingers are locked in for next season.
With the Expansion Draft behind us, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson checked off two players due new contracts earlier today, re-signing forwards Rudolfs Balcers and Joachim Blichfeld.
Balcers, a 24-year-old winger, was signed to a two-year deal with an annual cap hit of $1.55 million. In real dollars, the contract is slightly backloaded, broken up to $1.25 million this year and $1.85 million in the 2022-23 season, per CapFriendly. He will be a restricted free agent in 2023.
The Sharks drafted Balcers in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (142 overall) out of Norway’s top men’s league, where he put up 8 goals and 13 assists in 31 games as a teenage rookie and the team’s youngest player. By 2016, the Latvian native was ready to come to North America, joining the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. He missed tying for first in the team for points by a single point, and in one fewer game during his first and only WHL season. Balcers ranked first on the team in goals (40), third in assists (37) and tied for first in +/- with a +26, taking just 16 penalty minutes. His 40 goals ranked 11th in the entire WHL, one of only two non-Canadian skaters in the top-15 goal-scorers.
Shaping up to be a late-round gem, Balcers became a top-end prospect quickly, which made him a valuable piece when the Sharks were pursing defender Erik Karlsson. Balcers was part of the package traded to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for their captain in 2018.
But as fate would have it, in a year of taxi squads resulting in some questionable waivers decisions, Balcers found his way back to San Jose when he was placed on waivers following the Senators’ training camp. He played 41 games with the Sharks last season, notching 8 goals and 9 assists. In three years at the AHL-level, between the San Jose Barracuda and Belleville Senators, he’s totaled 56 goals and 59 assists, for 112 points in 143 games, and 30 penalty minutes.
“We were excited to bring Rudolfs back to our organization last season and he became an important part of our lineup in what was his first full NHL season,” said Wilson in a release. “He showed that he is a versatile forward who can provide offense for our club as a Top-9 forward. We are happy to have him.”
Another former WHL winger, Joachim Blichfeld was signed to a one-year deal worth $750,000, with a guaranteed salary of $125,000 and a minors salary of $80,000, per CapFriendly. The 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent next summer.
The Danish native played in the top Swedish juniors league prior to being selected by the Sharks in the seventh round (210 overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft. He joined the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL the following season and in three seasons, he averaged well over a point per game, with a staggering 105 goals and 123 assists in 187 games.
In 2019, he won the WHL’s Bobby Clarke Trophy by topping the league with 114 points in 68 games. Blichfeld was also named to the Western Conference First All-Star team and won the Four Broncos Trophy as the league’s Player of the Year. The following season, he joined the San Jose Barracuda and represented the team at the 2020 AHL All-Star Game.
“Joachim was a top player in the American Hockey League last season, leading the Barracuda in goals and points,” said Wilson. “He has shown over his career that he is a goal-scorer at each level, and with the experience, he has gained in his short time at the NHL level, we feel that he is ready to compete for a spot in our lineup next season.”
Blichfeld remains waivers eligible through next season, having eight career NHL games under his belt.
The remaining Sharks players not under contract in 2021-22 are as follows:
Forwards: Patrick Marleau (UFA), Kurtis Gabriel (UFA), Ryan Donato (RFA), Noah Gregor (10.2c), Marcus Sorensen (UFA), Max Letunov (UFA G6)
Defenders: Christian Jaros (RFA), Greg Pateryn (UFA)
Goaltenders: Adin Hill (RFA)
Per CapFriendly, the Sharks have an estimated $6.975 million remaining in cap space, with 44 out of 50 contracts. Free Agency begins on Wednesday, July 28.