Around halfway through the 2018-19 season, Adam Ruzicka was a ho-hum prospect, consistently producing but not overwhelmingly so. For a prospect two years removed from his draft, that was pretty disappointing.
A trade to Sudbury sparked Ruzicka, and he finished the season as one of the hottest players in the OHL. He was scoring at a near goal-per-game pace, becoming one of the most impactful trade deadline acquisitions.
Ruzicka’s entire OHL experience has had high highs and low lows. He can be a responsible centreman that is absolutely lethal in front of the net and creative in other parts of the offensive zone. He can also look lazy and lost at other times, tanking his value in other areas of the ice. Both versions of Ruzicka have popped up from time to time, making it hard to get a good idea of what he could be and where he’s going.
Which Ruzicka will the Flames get next October?
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After a pretty rough draft year, Ruzicka began the 2017-18 OHL season looking like a brand new man. He picked up 27 points in his first 15 games, helping his team win 14 of their first 15 games, and generally playing like a kid who was way too good for his league. Scouts loved him for his 6’4 frame and goalscoring abilities, and it now looked like he was starting to use the two together to actually do damage.
But that all came crashing down. After the first quarter of the season had passed, Ruzicka’s performances slowly began dropping even as his Sarnia teammates were keeping pace. A tough WJC and continued struggles made for a very long winter for the Slovak centre. He eventually broke out of his extended cold slump, but fell back to his inconsistent ways that infuriated scouts in his draft season. He still finished with a respectable 72 points in 63 games, but the bulk of his season was unconvincing. The majority of the heavy lifting was done by other Sting players.
Not helping the situation was the fact that Sarnia was going to lose plenty of strong offensive talent, leaving Ruzicka as one of the only remaining sources of offence. Given his inconsistency and struggles producing away from Sarnia’s best throughout the season, doubts could be had about his ability to carry the team.
Well, it didn’t begin that well.
Ruzicka was a man of consistency during his time in Sarnia, usually picking up a point every game, but wasn’t much of the dominant force you’d expect an older OHL player to be. He did pick up a point every game, but it was usually just a point. For the first half of the season, he was on track for a point per game season, which would fall below what he posted last season and way below what was expected of him. The quality of points also mattered, as he was mostly reduced to a guy who collected secondary powerplay points. Those players don’t tend to go far in the NHL, if they even get there.
Ruzicka also had a forgettable WJC, picking up three points in five games during another early Slovakia exit.
Although in a playoff spot at the trade deadline (16 of 20 OHL teams make the playoffs), the Sting acknowledged that they would probably be a very early exit and sent Ruzicka packing to the Sudbury Wolves for a second and two thirds.
Ruzicka quickly became a value add for the Wolves. In Sudbury, he was almost the exact opposite of what he was in Sarnia: he scored consistently, in volume, and wasn’t confined to scoring on the powerplay. He quickly rose to the top line spot and ran (skated?) with the opportunity. To close out the season, Ruzicka finished with nine points in his final four games, including a four goal game.
— Sudbury Wolves (@Sudbury_Wolves) February 24, 2019
Numbers & Growth
|GP||G||A||P||5v5 points||Primary points||5v5 primary points||NHLe|
Ruzicka had a modest jump from his previous season, in aggregate. The numbers don’t really look that favourable to him, but again, it’s a tale of two seasons: pre and post-trade.
|GP||G||A||P||5v5 points||primary points||5v5 primary points||NHLe|
|68 game pace||–||21||50||71||34||48||29||–|
|68 game pace||–||54||38||92||56||77||49||–|
The difference is astounding. Ruzicka, despite being in similar circumstances, was just an all around better player in Sudbury than Sarnia. Take on pace numbers for what you will, but the numbers suggest he would be putting up dominant OHL numbers. You can see it on the charts too. When he joined Sudbury, Ruzicka’s NHLe took off. He also began scoring more consistently and with more volume too.
It’s hard to say what flipped the switch for Ruzicka. It wasn’t as if Sudbury was just loaded with more talent; they actually finished the season with less goals than Sarnia. He also saw more 5v5 time, an area where he’s struggled throughout his career. The Wolves were a better outfit at 5v5 production, but only by 20 goals (or an extra goal every three games), so it’s unlikely that is the only cause. Even having missed over half of Sudbury’s games, Ruzicka still finished seventh in scoring. If the on pace numbers are to be believed, Ruzicka would’ve finished as the Wolves’ leading scorer…
… by 31 points.
And the most absurd thing is that it can’t be easily placed on puck luck. Ruzicka was an okay shooter in Sarnia (118 total, 3.37 per game, 9.32 SH%), but absolutely turned it on in Sudbury (138 total, 4.6 per game, 17.39 SH%). That shooting percentage may seem way off to the PDO wary folks, but that’s actually not that far off from his career totals. Before this season, Ruzicka was shooting at 14.98%. His Sarnia goalscoring was the outlier, not the Sudbury goalscoring.
To put it briefly: if Sudbury Ruzicka was the real Ruzicka, that’s pretty scary.
But we should also add the caveat that Ruzicka has appeared to be a great player from time to time and then just as quickly slipped back into being the opposite of that. It is also entirely feasible that he got hot at a convenient point in the timeline, and that had he been with Sudbury since the start of the season, his stats wouldn’t have changed. Although he was a much better player, be careful with thinking that it’s the final summation of what Ruzicka is as a player. If there’s anything the 2018-19 Flames have taught us, it’s that both halves matter in a season.
Oddly enough, looking at era-adjusted comparable players aren’t favourable to Ruzicka.
Only 29 of 157 players with similar production (18.47%) to Ruzicka’s final OHL year eventually made the NHL, scoring at about a 0.33 PPG clip, bottom six numbers. The data returns similar numbers for players with comparable 5v5 numbers and players who matched him both at all situations and 5v5 scoring.
Again, it’s a tale of two seasons. We have to look at the full data from Ruzicka’s season, and we can’t judge Ruzicka on how we think he might’ve performed, but by what he actually did. If he did achieve the gaudy numbers he did in Sudbury all season long, I’m sure his comparables would be slightly more favourable, but certainly nothing that would put him in “can’t miss NHLer” territory.
Given that it’s the end of Ruzicka’s junior career, we can look back on players who compared well to Ruzicka throughout their entire career. Those comparisons also lead us to similar conclusions. Players who matched Ruzicka’s production in three different categories of the six possible, generally indicating a strong comparison, went on to the NHL 14.92% of the time, scoring around 0.36 PPG. If we look at stronger comparables who matched Ruzicka in four of six categories, similar numbers: 16% of them went to the NHL and scored around 0.31 PPG. Extremely strong comparables, matching in five of six categories, actually didn’t turn up any NHL players, but only three players matched up with Ruzicka that well, so I’m going to suggest that it’s a sample size issue.
Some of these less than favourable comparisons owes to Ruzicka’s general inconsistency throughout his junior career: he had his good flashes, but was never consistent enough to establish himself. When he’s on, he does look like a certain NHLer. When he’s off, just another guy on the ice.
Adam Ruzicka's 30th goal of the season. He added three more last night in the @Sudbury_Wolves 8-4 victory over Hamilton for the first four-goal performance of his @OHLHockey career #Flames pic.twitter.com/trmlYr2tmi
— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) March 16, 2019
Ruzicka signed his ELC, so he’ll be in Stockton next season, and he’ll certainly be there for the whole season. Barring any offseason/training camp surprises, he’s behind four NHL centres already in Calgary in addition to the one or two they bring in for depth purposes. Few jump directly from the CHL to the NHL, so no one’s expecting him to come make a difference on day one.
How Ruzicka will perform is the more interesting question. He’s wowed scouts with his abilities, but has equally drawn their ire for his inconsistency in applying them. One can hope that the Sudbury experience was the real him coming into form, but we’ll have to wait and see.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) February 14, 2019