Adam Ruzicka is making the most of his first line audition
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike6 months ago
In life, opportunity comes in many forms and often when you expect it to appear. For Calgary Flames forward Adam Ruzicka, an opportunity at the most plum assignment he’s ever been offered at the National Hockey League came when the team was mired in a losing streak and one of the team’s best players suddenly wasn’t available, in part because of a blocked shot that swelled his foot up.
But four games into that opportunity, Ruzicka is making the most of his first line audition.
The thing you need to know about Ruzicka is that he’s never really played the wing for a sustained amount of time in high level hockey. Coming up in Slovakia and Czechia, he was used as a centre due to his size and scoring prowess. When he came over to the Ontario Hockey League, ditto. Playing in the American Hockey League for the past few seasons, again, his size made him a natural centre and because he hadn’t played much wing it made it tougher and tougher to try him out. (And with Stockton not being super-stacked up the middle, it made it easy to keep him at centre and not experiment too much.)
Flash forward to this season, and Ruzicka comes into Flames camp with no waiver exemption left and four established NHL pivots ahead of him: Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, Mikael Backlund and Kevin Rooney. Suddenly, there was urgency to see if he could hack it on the wing.
He played one game on the left side during pre-season and it was on Sept. 29, beside Connor Zary (in his first NHL camp) and Sonny Milano (in camp on a PTO). All due respect to his linemates, but it wasn’t quite a recipe for success, and Ruzicka was adequate but not impressive in the role. Flames head coach Darryl Sutter commented about Ruzicka’s lack of efficiency in the role.
Come the regular season, Ruzicka played one game at centre, on the fourth line on Nov. 1 in place of an under-performing Rooney. He wasn’t impressive.
But since Ruzicka joined Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli in place of an injured Jonathan Huberdeau on Nov. 8, he has played some of his best hockey as a pro. In four games, he has two goals and two assists, and has been an occasional catalyst for nice plays by his linemates (and a finisher on plays by them as well).
“Well the one line was good tonight, for sure,” said assistant coach Ryan Huska following Calgary’s win over Los Angeles on Monday night. “I thought they moved the puck around well, the three of them together. Adam did a good job of using his size tonight and going to the net. And you can see that, for me, over the last couple games certain guys have raised their level, and we needed to find a way to win games, and Elias has been one of them and so has Tyler. So, that was a good line for us tonight, for sure.”
“He’s a really good player,” said linemate Tyler Toffoli of Ruzicka and his adjustment to the top line. “Obviously he was in and out of the lineup a little bit, and last year as well, but I played with him last year so I kind of know what he brings. And I think he’s playing really confident hockey right now and just making really good plays.”
In four games on the wing with Ruzicka on the ice at five-on-five, the puck is definitely going in the right direction for the Flames. They’ve out-shot opponents 36-13, out-chanced them 30-12, out-high-dangered them 14-5 and out-scored them 4-1. They’ve also scored two power play goals with him on the ice.
“He’s got a pretty good opportunity in front of him, so I think he recognizes that, too,” said Huska. “I think he wants to be a full-time NHL player and be able to contribute night-in and night-out, so i think that’s a real challenge for him, is that he maintains what he’s been able to do. That’s up to him. So if he continues to push and work the way he has over this last little while he’s going to continue to get that opportunity.”
The Flames are back in action on Thursday night in Tampa Bay when they visit the Lightning.
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