Western Michigan's Chase Balisy has one of the more interesting career trajectories in college hockey. At age 15, Balisy scored 150 points playing on the top line of Ontario's best Midget Minor sqaud, the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. After two lackluster years with the NTDP, Balisy committed to Western Michigan with little fanfare and was completely passed over in the 2010 NHL Draft.
But Balisy put together an impressive freshman season with the Broncos, scoring 30 points in 42 games while helping the Broncos to a resurgence under first year head Jeff Blashill. His strong freshman season helped him get drafted in his second year of eligibility in the 5th round of the 2011 Draft by the Nashville Predators. Since then, Balisy has continued to be a very good college hockey player, though his scoring numbers have dipped a bit under the conservative style of play of head coach Andy Murray.
This is Balisy's senior season at Western Michigan, meaning Nashville will have to make a decision on whether to sign him to a contract. Since it can be tough to judge a player's overall contributions just by looking at his scoring line, I took a closer look at Balisy's game on Saturday January January 18th, a 2-1 Western Michigan victory at St. Cloud State.
Balisy came into that game having put up multi-point games in each of his three previous games, including two goals the previous night in a wild 5-5 tie that saw the two teams combine for 10 goals on just 45 shots in regulation. Saturday's game was a much tighter defensive affair, and arguably, a better venue to watch Balisy play. Balisy certainly has some offensive abilities, but he doesn't really project as a big scorer at the next level.
The good news is that Balisy doesn't necessarily need to be scoring goals to make his impact felt on the ice. Western Michigan plays much more of a pro-style, possession-oriented game, and Balisy is a consummate team player. He'd likely have a few more points on the season if he tried to force things a little more in the offensive zone by taking pucks directly to the net, but rather than taking that chance, he does a great job of being patient, and setting his team up on the cycle. That allows them to maintain possession in the other team's zone, and wait for an even higher percentage opportunity.
Balisy employs that same patience breaking the puck out of his own end and moving the puck through the neutral zone. Balisy is never rushed, never panicked, and rarely turns the puck over. He sees the whole ice very well, which allows him to make passes that aren't necessarily the first, clear option in order to help his team keep possession of the puck.
Defensively, Balisy plays center and does an excellent job providing support down low. Again, he probably costs himself some offensive opportunities by helping out so much on defense, but makes his team better by being so effective on defense. He rarely gets caught on the wrong side of the puck when his team loses possession.
His skating isn't a huge asset, but it's more than good enough to play at the NHL-level. He's not going to provide much physical presence, but will rely on good positioning to win battles.
College hockey doesn't really track individual ice time, which makes it near impossible to track the kind of possession and scoring chance-based fancy stats that you see in the NHL, but I have to imagine Balisy is the type of player who would look way better if college hockey had those kind of stats. He's doing the types of little things he's being asked to do, and those are the same types of things that he will be asked to do at the NHL level.
The overall ceiling for Balisy as a pro prospect probably isn't as high as some other prospects. He's unlikely to play in a top six scoring role at the professional level. But Balisy does have the potential to be a player that can play a third or fourth line role--either on the wing or at center-- at the pro level where he eats a lot of ice time without giving up many scoring chances, helps a team keep possession of the puck, and occasionally chip in some offense. Any team would take a player capable of doing that. He'll graduate from Western Michigan and will likely spend some time at the AHL level, but after playing three years under Andy Murray, he likely needs less polishing at the minor league level than most prospects coming out of college hockey.