At 20 years old Roope Hintz has already played in two seasons in Liiga, Finland's top men's league and produced well in his final 2016-17 season including 14 points in 14 games in the playoffs. His rookie season in North America and the NHL will be his next challenge. Tom Dorsa looks at the early returns.
Rudolfs Balcers impressed in the Sharks training camp but a year developing in the AHL was in the cards for the promising prospect. Balcers, a native of Latvia, played three seasons with the Stavanger Oilers of the Norwegian League from 2013-16. He debuted in North America with the Kamloops Blazers and promptly finished third in rookie scoring with 77 points in 66 games - leading all freshmen with 40 goals. He represented Latvia at the 2017 World Juniors. A detailed scouting report on his progress at the next level follows.
A note on the 20-80 scale used below. We look at five attributes (skating, shooting, puck skills, hockey IQ and physicality) for skaters and six for goalies (athleticism/quickness, compete/temperament, vision/play reading, technique/style, rebound control and puck handling). Each individual attribute is graded along the 20-80 scales, which includes half-grades. The idea is that a projection of 50 in a given attribute meant that our observer believed that the player could get to roughly NHL average at that attribute at maturity.
|Roope Hintz||2015 Draft (49th - Dallas Stars)|
|Position LW, Shoots L||H/W: 6-2" 185 lbs|
|Stats to date (GP-G-A-Pts-PIM)||Texas Stars, AHL (20-6-4-10-4)|
Skating: Hintz is a good skater. He has exceptionally long strides and uses them to get up to speed quickly and effectively, coupling that with good pivot power to shift from side to side well. Good lateral movement allows him to twirl around defenders and make plays. Has a good three-step acceleration. Stops and starts well, and has great top-end speed. Can skate backwards decently and has the wheels to hustle for loose pucks in all three zones. Turns impressively tight on his skates for a 6-3" forward. Grade: 55
Shot: Has a great, sharp release on all of his shots with good accuracy. His wrist shot is lethal and he is not afraid to use it when he finds time and space in the middle of the ice. His stick-readiness needs work as a pass-first player, meaning his shot preparedness can improve a lot. Good one-timer as he uses his long and lanky frame to generate torque on his shot. Really adept at shooting in stride. Grade: 55
Skills: Hintz has stellar hands and uses them well to both buy time and get himself a better shot lane. Really good at settling and repurposing otherwise lost pucks to keep a chance alive. Makes everybody play at his pace. Has a few skilled and elusive stick moves to get past defenders. Good at playing both center and wing for Texas because of his versatility and skill at both positions. Grade: 50
Smarts: Hintz is a very mature player for a 20-year-old in his first North American pro season. He tends to make good reads and carries himself well on the ice, staying composed and giving 100%, no matter the circumstances. Has great senses and finds the open man on the cycle, but sometimes overdoes it on the ice and puts the puck in a bad spot. He will need to simplify his game and try not to overwork things. Underrated defensive game, good at poke-checking guys on the backcheck. Follows the unfolding plays well and skates hard on every shift. Plays well on the penalty kill. Grade: 50
Physicality: Hintz has a very strong upper-body that he utilizes well to protect the puck. Good at chipping and chasing as his combination of size and speed can make a difference down low. Has a high-ceiling for physical play if he can grow into his body by adding more weight (185 lbs currently) to his long frame. Does not possess the all-out brute strength needed to be a huge physical force but holds his own well. Grade: 45
Summary: Roope Hintz entered the season as the seventh-ranked prospect in the Dallas Stars system for good reason. He will be a playmaking force for years to come, and if he works on his finishing skills, he can be a pure offensive contributor in the NHL. He has a very well-rounded game, one of the best in the Dallas organization, and has impressed since draft night. He is extremely mature for his age and experience and he plays with a certain infectious jump that his teammates and coaches love. Projects to be a future top-nine forward that plays in all situations for Dallas, averaging 45-50 points.
Overall Future Projection (OFP): 52
|Rudolfs Balcers||2015 Draft (142nd - San Jose Sharks)|
|Position LW, Shoots L||H/W: 5-11", 175 lbs|
|Stats to date (GP-G-A-Pts-PIM)||San Jose Sharks, AHL (17-2-11-13-4)|
Skating: Balcers is a good skater. He is extremely talented at shifting from side to side on his skates and you notice that as soon as you watch him. He gets up to speed decently and has moderately fast top-speed, very observant feet that react well to where the puck is on the ice. Has good edgework that allows him to transition well. Has a set of short strides that let him pick up speed and hold off defenders well. Uses his legs to chase down loose pucks and repurpose possessions. Grade: 50
Shot: Balcers has a quick release and gets his shot ready to fire very quickly. He can adjust to a lot of different passes to get a good shot on net. Does not have blazing speed on his wrist shot but has great accuracy and can put it anywhere he wants. Loves to shoot in places where the goaltender has trouble securing the puck, allowing him to follow up on the shot. Have not seen him shoot all too often, and is kind of hesitant on his shot. One-timer becoming more of a weapon on the power-play than before and his slap shot release is fluid and smooth. Grade: 45
Skills: Extraordinarily skilled and well-coordinated. Very creative with passing and loves to set his teammates up. Has great hands, coupled with a few highly-effective and elusive moves with the puck on his stick. Great puck skills down low in the zone, which allow him to further utilize his knack for finding his teammates in high-danger situations. Prolific assist machine thus far in the AHL. Likes having the puck and trusts his skills with it, really good at drawing defenders and making silky passes to keep the puck in play. Grade: 55
Smarts: Balcers is a very smart player for someone with little North American pro hockey experience. Plays attentively in the defensive zone and does not often put pucks into bad areas exiting the zone, which is surprising given how much he loves to pass. Has a blue-collar grit to his game and never takes a shift off, always working hard and contributing in more ways than one. Sees the ice extremely well. Seems to play a step ahead of all others and has that natural ability to take over a game. Can get everybody involved. Grade: 55
Physicality: Balcers is not the biggest forward in the game but has the tools to be an effective power winger if he packs some muscle onto his frame. Strong lower-body, does not get pushed off the puck often. Will get down low in the defensive zone to fight for a puck in the corner. Adept at sliding or rolling off of checks from his opponents. Grade: 45
Summary: Rudolfs Balcers is quietly becoming one of the more heralded prospects currently playing for the Barracuda. At the time of writing, he leads San Jose in assists with 11 in 17 games. His vision and playmaking ability in all situations and with anyone around him make him a scary matchup for defensemen, while also being one of the top rookie setup men in the AHL. Balcers is looking ahead of pace in his development and could impact the Sharks as soon as next season, as his combination of offensive skill and relentless demeanor make him a potentially massive steal for his fifth-round draft status. Could be a future middle-six winger and power-play setup man with a 35-40 point ceiling.
Overall Future Projection (OFP): 50.25