New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather
announced today that the club has agreed to terms with restricted free agent forward Jozef Balej.
Balej, 23, appeared in 69 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL) last season, registering 20 goals and 22 assists for 42 points, along with 46 penalty minutes. His 20 goals ranked third on the team. Balej tied the Wolf Pack single-game season high with four points (two goals, two assists) in Hartford's 7-1 victory against the Portland Pirates on January 7. He also earned second-star honors on January 19 against Springfield, when he notched two goals and one assist for three points, including a goal on the Pack's first penalty shot attempt of the season.
In 17 career NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and the Rangers, Balej has collected one goal and four assists for five points, along with four penalty minutes. He made his NHL debut on February 23, 2004 for Montreal, when the Canadiens faced off against the Devils in New Jersey. On March 2, 2004, the Rangers acquired him, along with a second round selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft (Bruce Graham), from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for right wing Alex Kovalev. After being acquired by the Rangers, he made his Blueshirt debut on March 9 at Atlanta and later recorded his first NHL goal/point on March 15 against the New Jersey Devils. Balej skated in a total of 13 games for New York during the 2003-04 season, registering one goal and four assists for five points.
The 6-1, 190-pounder has appeared in 185 career AHL contests with the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Hartford Wolf Pack, totaling 51 goals and 73 assists for 124 points, along with 128 penalty minutes. His best AHL season came in 2003-04, when he tallied 26 goals and 36 assists for 62 points in 60 games with the two clubs. Following his 13-game run in New York, Balej joined the Wolf Pack and helped lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004, appearing in 16 post-season contests for the club. He led the Wolf Pack in all post-season scoring categories, collecting nine goals and seven assists for 16 points and his nine playoff goals tied for second in the AHL. In addition, Balej was selected as a member of the PlanetUSA squad at the 2004 AHL All-Star Classic on February 9.
Prior to turning professional, Balej spent three seasons (1999-2002) with the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL). In 176 career matches with Portland, Balej tallied 105 goals and 85 assists for 190 points, along with 103 penalty minutes. In his final season in 2002, he collected 51 goals and 41 assists for 92 points in 65 matches and was named to the WHL West First All-Star Team.
The native of Myjava, Slovakia was originally Montreal's third round selection, 78th overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.