Panthers Sign Unheralded Success Story to 2-Year Extension

At this time last year, the then-26-year-old defenceman says he had pretty much given up hope of ever playing in the NHL. But then the Florida Panthers came calling, and now after Uvis Balinskis's first taste of pro hockey in North America, the Panthers have been impressed enough that they’ve decided to have him stick around for a few more years, handing out a two-year extension to the Latvian defenceman, keeping him with the Cats through the 2025-26 season.

Balinskis had originally signed with the Panthers on a one-year, $950,000 two-way deal with an $870,000 cap hit back in April 2023; the new two-year extension is a one-way contract with an $850,000 cap hit kicks in next season. 

The 6-foot, 200-pound D-man made his NHL debut with the Panthers at the beginning of the season. He began the year as a fairly regular member of the Florida blueline, and in 18 games he registered one goal and one assist while breaking even on plus-minus with a rating of 0. 

“He adopted incredibly well,“ said coach Paul Maurice at the time. “From his last two exhibition games, he was incredibly noticeable. His willingness to get involved in plays and not just sit back and watch the game and play it safe... He jumps into holes and he gets down the walls on the forecheck, so there’s definitely something there… We know he can generate offence because he has over the course of his career... but in waiting for that to happen, he’s playing a pretty good all-around game."

Balinskis has also spent some time with the Panthers' AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, where he has recorded 8 points in 8 games. 

“Uvis is a talented two-way defenceman with excellent playmaking abilities,” said Panther GM Bill Zito in a press release announcing the extension. “His successful transition to North American play enabled him to make an immediate impact, and we are excited to have him continue as a professional within our organization.”

The Latvian defenceman began his career with three seasons in the KHL in Russia before spending another three in Czechia’s top league. Last year, his final season overseas, he produced 11 goals and 35 points and 50 games, leading all defenceman in Czechia in points.

Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports