Welcome to Bubble Keeper week at The Journey. This week features a few players that might be flying under the radar in your league, but could potentially make the jump as early as this fall.
The L.A. Kings could use an injection of youth into the line-up and their most recent first-round pick, Rasmus Kupari, could be just what the doctor ordered. The 20th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Rasmus Kupari has spent the past two seasons with the Karpat program in Finland. In 2016-17 he split time between the U18 and U20 teams playing 21 and 22 games respectively and showed fairly consistent production. With the U18 squad, Kupari registered eight goals and 17 points and with the U20’s he scored four times and posted 14 points. In the offseason, Kurpari represented Finland at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka tournament where he had a standout showing in which he tied for the team lead in scoring with two goals and five assists in four games. 2017-18 saw Kupari get called up to the big boys of the Liiga where he more than held his own despite not getting prime ice time as is typically the case with teenagers. In 39 games, Kupari had six goals and eight helpers. He also had a quick stint with Hermes in the lower league, Mestis, where he posted one goal and four points.
DobberProspects Managing editor, Peter Harling and Kupari's coach, Mikko Manner have compared the slick forward to Sebastian Aho, with a little Jesse Pulijarvi mixed in. The Kings could have a good one on their hands. Kupari has a well-rounded game at such a young age but may need to move to the wing in the early part of his career. He’s got the requisite speed and skill level needed to play in the NHL soon, the main thing holding him back is his strength. The Kings have already locked Kupari up with an entry-level deal. His CHL rights are owned by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds so if he doesn’t crack the team, look for him to spend this season in the Sault.
Born in Latvia but spending his formative hockey years training in Norway, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that he’s outplayed his draft position thus far. Not selected until the fifth round in 2015, Balcers spent his draft and draft+1 seasons playing with the Stavanger Oilers in the top league in Norway, he led all junior-aged players in scoring both seasons with point totals of 21 in 2014-15 and 24 in 2015-16. He made the move to North American in the fall of 2016 and has really impressed since. Playing for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL, the import led the team in goals with 40, good for 11th league-wide, and placed second on the team in scoring with 77 points in 66 contests. With a standout year of junior hockey under his belt, Balcers made the move to pro hockey with much more success than even the most optimistic Sharks fans could have hope for. All Balcers did was lead the San Jose Barracudas in both goals and points with 23 and 48 respectively, besting his next closest teammate by 10 points, and finished seventh in rookie scoring and fifth in goal scoring. He also led the team in a short, round one exit in the playoffs with four points in as many games.
A numbers game may force him down to the farm to start the year, but keep an eye on him during camp to see if he can surprise. He’s a natural born goal scorer that has yet to be slowed down at any level.
Three years ago, if you would have bet me that by the end of the 2017-18 season Barber wouldn’t be an NHL regular, I’d have taken that bet all day. But it hasn’t happened yet for him for him. Maybe this shouldn’t be seen as a disappointment since he was, after all, a sixth-round pick. Getting anything out of him would be a bonus. But on the other hand, given how well he played in college and how his professional career started off, it is somewhat surprising that he hasn’t forced his way on the Capitals roster. Barber played three years at the University of Miami (OH) where he finished second on the team in scoring every year and either tied or led the team in goal scoring with 15, 19 and 20 goals. He represented team USA twice at the WJHC and in 12 games over the two tournaments Barber posted a dozen points. When he decided his college career was over, Barber made the transition to pro hockey in 2015-16 and it couldn’t have gone any better. With the AHL’s Hershey Bears he scored 26 times and added 29 helpers. He finished tied for fourth in rookie scoring with 55 points and his 26 goals were the second-best mark among first-year players in the league. He earned the accolade of AHL Rookie of the Month for the month of February. Year number two saw Barber’s numbers take a dip as he registered just 13 goals and 14 helpers in 39 games which translates to a point per game decrease of seven percent. There was one positive aspect of the 2016-17 campaign however. He received his first call up to the NHL playing in three games for the Capitals but was held off the score sheet. This past season Barber spent the entire year in the minors suiting up for 60 games, scoring 20 times, leading the Bears in both goals and power play goals with 10, and finished the year with 38 points, the fourth best mark on the team.
He was re-signed to a one-year deal this offseason and this could prove to be a make it or break it year for Barber, at least with the Capitals organization. He’ll have to pass through waivers in order to be send down and there’s a good chance he’s be claimed if he were to hit the wire. Barber’s shown that he is, at the very least, a very good AHL player. But the question is can he carry over that same level of play to the NHL on a consistent basis.
As always thanks for checking out this week’s edition of The Journey. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips!
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