Deadline to sign Balej fast approaching

By Chris Boucher
Josef Balej is arguably the most talented prospect in the Montréal Canadiens’ system. Therefore, the decision of whether or not to sign the young Slovak before the June 1st deadline can only be described as a “no brainer”. There’s just too much talent holding onto that black-bladed stick to lose.

Balej is coming off what is likely his toughest stretch in the last two seasons. The Portland Winter Hawks’ go-to-guy offensively was held to only two assists during a seven game opening round loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds. Balej was Seattle’s main focus in the series, as they keyed on him defensively throughout the seven games.

The Thunderbirds had only to look at the season series between the two teams to realize that stopping Balej was the only way to get by Portland. Balej played in 9 of the 11 games between the two teams this season; he missed two of the meetings with a pulled groin. Through those nine games Balej scored an impressive 11 goals, and added 4 assists; making Seattle’s eventual ability to shut him down in the playoffs even more impressive.

Regardless of Balej’s lack of scoring in the playoffs, he still showed an unwavering desire to work through the dry-spell. He continued to go to the net as the series wound down. He blocked shots, finished checks, and drew penalties throughout the series. Despite what can only be described as a frustrating seven games.

Thankfully the regular season was rewarding rather than frustrating for the 20-year-old right winger. He set career-highs in goals (51), assists (41) and points (92) as he led the Winter Hawks in scoring. He finished fifth overall among WHL scoring leaders, while his 51 goals were the second-highest output of any player in the league.

Balej was named to the Western Conference first all-star team. Also, in a poll voted on by players, coaches and GM’s was named the Western Conference’s best skater, as well as the player with the hardest and most accurate shot.

Although his offensive output wasn’t as consistent as most top scorers in the league, Balej did enjoy one scoring streak of 7 games, two streaks of 5 games, and two other streaks of 4 games with at least one point. He was a streaky scorer, who tended to put up points in bunches, as he finished the season with 24 multi-point games. He impressed with twelve 3-point games; three 4-point games, and scored 5 points during a December 15th game against the Vancouver Giants.

Balej already has NHL speed to go along with an NHL shot. The only thing missing is professional experience. Although time is running out, the possibility still exists that Balej could be signed and brought up to play with the Québec Citadelles before the end of the AHL season.

Barring a huge breakdown in contract talks, Balej will indubitably be signed to a contract by the June 1st deadline. With talent like that, it shouldn’t be too long before Hab fans get used to seeing a diminutive, yet speedy right handed shot streaking down the right wing; with the right side of his jersey tucked in and that unmistakable white tape wrapped around a red-hot black-bladed stick.