Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly claim Rudolfs Balcers from Florida Panthers waivers

It appears on Tampa Bay Lightning claimed striker Rudolfs Balcers off the waivers of the Florida Panthers Saturday. The 25-year-old Latvian has registered 2 goals and 2 assists this season, including a goal against the Lightning on October 21.

Balcers brings 167 games of NHL experience to the team, mostly in a third- or fourth-line role. Originally drafted in the fifth round by the San Jose Sharks in 2015, Balcers was part of the deal that sent Erik Karlsson to the Ottawa Sharks in 2018. A few years later, he found himself in California when San Jose picked him up from waivers.

Last offseason, the Sharks bought out his contract and he was immediately signed by the Panthers to a one-year, $750,000 contract. The Lightning will win the cap on this deal, which right now isn’t too big, but could be a problem once their injured players return. At this point, they will have to figure out how to make things work.

For now, if Balcers stays with the Lightning, the left-handed winger will likely position himself on the third or fourth line. With a lack of production coming from the back six, he could find a place in place of Cole Koepke who has yet to produce a run and has looked invisible from time to time. Some time at Syracuse could get Koepke back into the scoring mode he displayed last year with the Crunch.

They have a spot on the 23-man roster and have only had 12 forwards since Gabriel Fortier was sent to Syracuse. Adding Balcers could allow Coach Cooper to rotate a few players until Anthony Cirelli returns. It really is a free flyer they can take to possibly help correct some of their defensive issues.

During his time in San Jose, where Balcers became a full-time player, he showed he could handle a two-way role and play tough defensively. In 61 games last year, he had 11 goals and 12 assists while averaging 15 minutes of ice time. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him in a similar role.

The Panthers had to place him on waivers in order to go under the cap with Aaron Ekblad returning from injury. It looks like they were hoping they could sneak him in, but the Lightning jumped at the chance to get the versatile winger.

Robert M. Larson