In a bid to improve their team in the now, the Flames traded away some of their higher picks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. That left them with a less eventful draft, and fewer new prospects of intrigue in the system.
Their second pick of the draft, though – one Adam Ruzicka, selected in the fourth round – is certainly intriguing.
A brief history
Ruzicka came up through the HC Pardubice system in the Czech league while representing Slovakia internationally. As a 15-year-old in 2014-15 he accelerated through the U16, U18, and U20 teams, going from nearly three points per game to a point per game to a modest six in 11, respectively, while playing with guys up to four years older than him. He kept it up the following season, reaching 20 points in 20 games for the U20 team, all the while wearing a letter for Slovakia while playing on U16 and U17 teams.
For his draft season in 2016-17, Ruzicka decided to try his hand at the North American game. The Sarnia Sting selected him in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, the sixth last player chosen, and over he came, scoring 25 goals (he is very good at scoring goals) and 21 assists for 46 total points over 61 games. He finished fourth in Sarnia scoring, younger than everyone above him (and most below him). Thirty-seven of his points were primary, 33 came at 5v5, and 26 were primary 5v5 points. He totalled 171 shots on net – fifth among all Sting players, and third among those who spent the entire season in Sarnia.
Ruzicka also represented Slovakia in the 2017 World Junior Championships, scoring one assist in five games. He captained the Slovak Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament team, tying for third in team scoring with four points in four games.
Flames head amateur scout Tod Button provided a pretty succinct evaluation of Ruzicka’s first OHL season when he chatted with the media at the draft.
Up and down this year, but great skill package. Big man. We think the experience of playing over in the OHL overwhelmed him at times, but when we watched him at the national teams, World Juniors and Under-18s, he was really solid. We think, again, all our scouts were really high on him in the fourth round as far as untapped potential.
Brock Otten – of the superb OHL Prospects blog – provided his assessment of the young Slovakian forward.
Solid draft pick where the Flames got him this year. Big kid with a lot of skill who can leave a lot to be desired, depending on when you see him. Has a great shot and good hands, as well as pretty decent mobility for a big man. Has a lot of offensive potential. But he really needs to improve his intensity away from the puck. Needs to use his size to drive the net and dominate the corners with more consistency. Also, the questions surrounding his hockey sense and vision are also legitimate in my opinion. At times, seems to struggle to find that open man or that open lane. But at the end of the day you’ve got a big kid with a great skill set who is well worth a fourth round pick. Can be a tough transition for imports playing in their first OHL season, adjusting to a new league and a new rink. He’ll return to Sarnia and be a big part of their offense (which should be solid next year).
Mark Scheig, who covers the Erie Otters and the OHL for The Hockey Writers, had a similar viewpoint on Ruzicka.
He vastly improved in the second half of last season after adjusting to the game in North America. He’s developing into a good, two-way player, but needs to continue making strides offensively. Another year in Sarnia should help get his offensive skills on track.
What comes next?
In all likelihood, noticeable improvement.
Ruzicka was a kid travelling halfway around the world to play hockey, and it showed. But he’s 6’4, 209 lbs., and performed well in the Czech league and whenever he played internationally. He never lit the world on fire, but was anybody expecting him to? He’s freshly 18 and will be entering his second season in North America; there is tons of time for him to reach his potential. Familiarity with his new team and perhaps an increased role could lead to a big improvement in his results – and in all likelihood, we’ll be watching him represent Slovakia again, too.
The potential is there, and if he’s able to exhibit the growth expected of him, he could end up being a very exciting prospect.
|#20 – Ryan Lomberg||#19 – Adam Ollas Mattsson|
|#18 – Daniel Pribyl||#17 – Eetu Tuulola|