It’s no secret that the Calgary Flames have struggled to get consistent offense from anybody who isn’t Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk this season. While that may be enough to get them into the playoffs – as of this writing, they have a 89% chance of qualifying according to The Athletic’s projections – but it’s not a recipe for success in the second season.
While the Flames are likely in the market for help via trade, they may have found some help within their own organization. If young forward Adam Ruzicka can cement himself in a spot on the fourth line, suddenly the Flames become a much deeper, more dangerous hockey club.
Originally from Slovakia, Ruzicka’s a product of the Flames’ uneven 2017 NHL Draft class. After that draft weekend, Flames head scout Tod Button proclaimed that the draft was about finding players with high offensive ceilings.
The Flames nabbed Ruzicka in the fourth round from the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, and Button provided the assembled media in Chicago with this assessment:
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.
Talking to scouting pals at the time and in the following seasons, the knock on Ruzicka was always consistency. Ruzicka came over to North America as an import in 2016 after spending his time in Czechia’s junior leagues, where he was always one of the best players in his league and/or team. Since he was better than most of the kids he was playing against, Ruzicka could succeed (and occasionally dominate) without having to be “on” every night.
The OHL was a bit of a wake-up call for Ruzicka and he managed to adapt. Going pro in 2019 and joining the Stockton Heat was probably a similar wake-up call.
If nothing else, Ruzicka has seen consistent offensive progression over the past six seasons.
The other thing that Ruzicka has worked on is his consistency, in terms of generating points more often:
- 2016-17: 31 games with points, 30 games without
- 2017-18: 39 games with points, 24 games without
- 2018-19: 49 games with points, 16 games without
- 2019-20: 23 games with points, 31 games without
- 2020-21: 11 games with points, 17 games without
- 2021-22: 9 games with points, 4 games without
Aside from the weird, weird 2020-21 bubble season, Ruzicka has managed to improve upon his prior season’s efforts in terms of hitting the scoresheet consistently rather than having his scoring output concentrated in just a few games where he gets many, many points.
Ruzicka’s currently in the midst of his second call-up. His first came last May, where he played three games under the watchful eye of Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. He must’ve done something right in those games, because he was called up from Stockton on Nov. 25 and has split his time since between the taxi squad and the NHL roster.
The Flames currently have three veteran centres in their lineup: Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Sean Monahan. The fourth spot has bounced between converted winger Dillon Dube and 36-year-old veteran Brad Richardson, neither of which have been slam-dunks.
With Ruzicka in the fourth line spot between Brett Ritchie and Trevor Lewis over the past several games, that line has avoided getting hemmed into their own zone and actually managed to out-chance the opposition. A bad game in St. Louis sunk their goal differential a bit, but so far Ruzicka’s fit in well.
Prior to Calgary’s game with Vancouver, Sutter shared his thoughts on Ruzicka (and his performance against the Blues):
Bottom line is going forward we need a player like him to be a better player. It’s a position that we have to get better at. And that’s not at the expense of Brad Richardson. Brad brings a lot to our room in terms of his leadership and work ethic. But we need that type of player in our lineup, and to become a better player. This is a team that hasn’t had much success for a number of years either making the playoffs or in the playoffs. He’s a big guy that’s got a really good skillset and I’ve said it lots, it’s kind of up to him where his game goes. I’m willing to be patient with him as long as his work ethic is based on a third effort type of situation. Really, on the scoresheet it shows the other night that he was on for two against. He was really not responsible for either one.
It’s easy to see what Flames brass likes about Ruzicka. He’s big. He’s smart. He’s mobile, especially for his size. And he’s savvy enough to have adapted quickly to the OHL and AHL upon arriving in both leagues. If he can adapt again, refine his game and improve upon his shift-to-shift and game-to-game consistency, he could be a very big add for a Flames bottom six that’s needed some dynamic elements.
If Ruzicka can carve out a niche, and soon, the Flames suddenly become a much deeper, more dangerous team going forward.
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