Throughout his young hockey career, Adam Ruzicka has been a lot of things. He’s been a projected lottery pick, a future power forward, the hope for Slovak hockey, a projected late first, a gigantic disappointment, the potential steal of the draft, and everything in between those extremes. He has yet to turn 19.
Ruzicka has been a confusing prospect ever since he landed in the OHL last year. On some nights, he could be pure dynamite, making professional moves with ease and embarrassing those who stood in his way. On other nights, he could look the exact opposite of that. This season was no different. There were extremely positive and extremely negative stretches, making it hard to suss out the real Ruzicka.
So what do the Flames have in their most recent fourth round selection?
The Slovak centreman has been a favourite of European scouts, thanks to his rapid rise through the Czech hockey system (ex: scoring a point per game in the Czech U20 league as a 16-year-old). Strong international appearances with Team Slovakia further improved his stock, and he was selected in the CHL import draft by the Sarnia Sting.
Ruzicka’s first season in the OHL didn’t exactly go as planned. Despite some significant hype, Ruzicka struggled with scoring and consistency, only picking up 46 points in 61 games. Some strong appearances with Team Slovakia helped his cause a bit, and he was drafted 104th overall to the Flames.
Adam Ruzicka's been pretty good today. Some smart work down near the net, and he gets the goal: pic.twitter.com/6g1PnoYjte
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) September 10, 2017
Ruzicka started the season hot with Sarnia, placing himself alongside the OHL’s best in the opening salvo of the season. For the first few weeks he stuck around with the best of them, picking up goals like nobody’s business. Ruzicka was a key part of a Sarnia team that won 14 of its first 15 games.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. The kid burst out with 27 points in his first 15 games, but then followed it up with 10 points in the next 15. After the strong start to the season, Ruzicka slowed down with the rest of the team.
His WJC appearance was a bit of a disappointment. Slovakia wasn’t expected to do anything significant, but Ruzicka’s muted showing was discouraging. He was going cold in the OHL and it carried over in Buffalo. Although awesome, it’s a bit discouraging that this might be the only thing I remember him doing during the tournament:
Flames prospect Adam Ruzicka either yells something in Slovak or profanity. Who can blame him in either case. pic.twitter.com/zofnAv3lxT
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) December 29, 2017
Aside from that, he had two assists in five games.
The final few weeks featured a lot of the player scouts both loved and hated. Ruzicka got off the schneid, posting a couple of multi-point games, but really didn’t develop a rhythm. When he was on, he was on, but he was mostly off. He fell cold again for the OHL playoffs, where he picked up three points in 12 games.
|GP||G||A||P||Primary points||5v5 Points||5v5 Primary points||NHLe|
All in all, Ruzicka didn’t have that bad of a season. Regardless of him crashing halfway through the season, he still was much better than last year. He also picked up a lot of primary points along the way, only scoring 11 secondary points all season. That’s pretty good, and the highest ratio of primary points to total points of all Flames CHL prospects. His nose for the net certainly helps those totals. He was Sarnia’s most productive shooter, ripping off 236 shots, good for 21st among all OHL skaters.
So nothing but positive signs, right?
Well, not necessarily. I think maybe the best way to describe Ruzicka is perhaps by calling him the anti-D’Artagnan Joly. The QMJHL winger doesn’t have numbers that jump off the page, but it’s a consequence on playing one of the Q’s worst teams. By the end of the season, Joly had been involved in just under 40% of all Baie-Comeau goals, and was the primary factor on around 32% of them.
Ruzicka, on the other hand, has a stat line that signifies good growth, but isn’t that impressive in context. The Sting were one of the OHL’s highest goal scoring teams, finishing second in all situations (296, 4.35/game) and third in 5v5 scoring (212, 3.12/game). Ruzicka was involved in 26.95% of all goals, and 18.93% of all 5v5 goals. Even considering just primary contributions, Ruzicka’s major strength, those numbers still aren’t that pretty. He was the primary contributor on 22.53% of all goals, and on 16.37% of 5v5 goals. Those are among the lowest numbers among the Flames’ CHL prospects, with only Zach Fischer falling lower than him in one category (total contributions, all situations).
That’s not that good. Ruzicka did pile up the numbers, but so did everyone else on the Sting (eight 50+ point scorers, including two defencemen, three who scored 70+, and a 100-point player). Playing on a line with Jordan Kyrou, one of the OHL’s most dynamic players this season, certainly helped him plenty.
The major split between Ruzicka’s AS numbers and his 5v5 numbers is quite apparent when looking for comparable players. Players who had similar AS seasons found full-time NHL work at a 25.62% clip, scoring around 0.43 PPG: good middle six center numbers. Looking at 5v5 only, however, those numbers dip to 14.97% and 0.26 PPG: fourth line, borderline replacement level numbers.
The odd thing is that his stats at 17 painted a much better picture. The percentages were less certain (9% at AS, 18% at 5v5), but the PPG averages were way up (0.34 AS, 0.47 5v5). He was less reliant on powerplay scoring last year (33 5v5 points) which points to the facet of his game that needs the most improvement. He more or less ran in place at 5v5, and it shows throughout his comparables (perhaps this reinforces the criticism of his lackluster defensive play).
Of course, two OHL seasons really isn’t that much data to draw many conclusions from. “He could be good, he could not be” isn’t really meaningful analysis. Like above, he has his positives and his negatives. We’ll probably have to wait a bit to see what happens next year to get a better view of him. For now, the comparables don’t look great. Add more data and we’ll see.
Ruzicka has to take a major step forward next season. No doubts about it.
Sarnia will be depleted next year. Teammates Jordan Ernst, Jonathan Ang, Kyrou, Cam Dineen, and Drake Rymsha are almost certain to move onto the pro ranks, with the potential of Anthony Salinitri and Michael Pezzetta joining them. That’s a 100+ point scorer, two 70+ point scorers, a 60-point d-man, and three 50+ scorers all potentially leaving.
It’s going to be Ruzicka’s team, and he really has to own that role. He can’t coast to success playing a secondary role for the club, he has to be the driver. He has a knack for primary offence, but that’s likely to start drying up as his teammates depart, which is suboptimal.
There’s still time to right the ship, however. Not every prospect will be a stud just a year after being drafted, and Ruzicka has a lot of positives in his favour. Even though he had his ugly moments this year, there was still plenty of good to look at. If it takes another year for him to develop those skills, well, that’s exactly why we have the CHL. There’s no rush and plenty of runway.