Adam Ruzicka is an interesting project. There’s no doubt that he has talent, which is why he ended up eighth on the FlamesNation Top 20 prospect list.
However, he didn’t always show that in junior, and there’s a lot of questions about his game – specifically his motivation. He didn’t even make all the ballots of FlamesNation writers. Now, having signed his entry-level contract and making the jump to pro hockey this season, the question will be: what do the Calgary Flames have in Ruzicka?
How did we get here?
A product of Bratislava, Slovakia, Ruzicka bounced between youth leagues in the Czech Republic and Slovakia before eventually coming to North America to play for the Sarnia Sting. He was a member of the Sting when he was drafted in the fourth round by the Flames, going 109th in 2017.
It seemed as though the 6’4″, 203 lb. centreman was going to finish his junior career with Sarnia, as he started last season with them. It also seemed as though his junior career was going to end with a bit of a thud, as he was producing at an all right blip but not enough to warrant any excitement as a prospect.
Then, everything changed with a trade to Sudbury. The home of the Big Nickel lit a spark in Ruzicka, and he truly went on a tear with the Wolves, scoring on average nearly a goal-per-game.
The hope is that another new locale will be good for Ruzicka, as he’s expected to contribute in his season for Stockton.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
There’s a lot to look at with the last two years of Ruzicka.
When he’s engaged, Ruzicka can score goals. That’s a very appealing prospect in, well, a prospect. He got the majority of goals in Sarnia through the first part of his 2017-18 season, before cooling off and never really looking the same.
After that, the Sting never got the same kind of production out of him. During his final 83 games with Sarnia, Ruzicka managed 82 points. Certainly, nothing to sneeze at, but not the potential that the 27 points in his first 15 games showed.
That kind of potential was realized in Sudbury, where the numbers speak for themselves. He saw more ice time, he didn’t rely on power play production as much, and scored a bunch. He even had a four-goal game close to the end, something Joe Thornton can only aspire to.
It’ll be interesting to see the player that shows up in California. Ruzicka in a way had a very similar season to Stockton last year, with the only difference being that it wasn’t too late for the Slovak by the time he figured it out. This year, both the player and the team need the whole year to matter.
Those in the know
Even though he dazzled with the Wolves, Sudbury Star beat reporter Ben Leeson thinks that Ruzicka still needs to work on a couple of things to really stand out as a pro.
While he is by no means a poor skater, he’d ben even more effective with his skill, size and strength if he had just a little more speed to separate himself from defenders. Though he was Sudbury’s leading scorer in the playoffs, adding another gear would have made him even more effective against a team like Ottawa, one of the fastest in the league overall, and could certainly serve him well as a pro.
Brock Otten, of the OHL Prospects blog, echoes those sentiments and questions what a full season could and should look like for Ruzicka.
Ruzicka, as has always been the case, will need to find the motivation and drive to be a consistent factor when eh doesn’t have the puck on his stick. As mentioned, this took great strides in Sudbury, but a half a season does not do enough enough to completely wipe out these concerns. At the pro level, he is going to be asked to use his size retrieve loose pucks and play with more urgency below the hash marks. He will not be able to rely on his size to gain positional advantage in the slot or near the crease and he’s going to have to increase his intensity level to be better playing through traffic. I also think that Ruzicka will need to continue to improving his first few strides for the pro game. He’s not a poor skater, especially for a big kid, but becoming more explosive will be a requirement if he wants to be a top 6 center at the NHL level.
On the horizon
Ruzicka will go from the top-line centre in Sudbury to a player with lesser responsibility to start in Stockton. He’ll have to find the motivation to respond appropriately, but he’ll have three years to show the Flames that he has that next step.
With a lack of high-end prospects (especially centres) standing in his way, the main obstacle that Ruzicka will have to overcome really is himself. If he finds those extra gears that Leeson and Otten mentioned, he might find himself in Calgary sooner than later.