The scouting community expected much of Slovak forward Adam Ruzicka. He has an NHL frame at 6’4″, and his hockey smarts don’t lag far behind.
Most expected that Ruzicka would hit his stride offensively this season, after joining the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting in the second round of the 2016 CHL Import Draft out of HC Pardubice of the Czech Under 20 league. Instead, Ruzicka struggled to make an impact at either end of the ice.
Had Ruzicka hit his stride as so many anticipated, we’d be discussing him as a flag bearer for the Slovakian hockey program, dragging them singlehandedly back into the first-round of the NHL Entry Draft. Ruzicka now seems more likely to hear his name called early in the second day of the draft. That reality reflects itself in Ruzicka’s ranking, as the Slovak centre checks in as the 62nd ranked prospect in the Nations Network Prospect Profile countdown.
- Age: 18-years-old, 1999-05-11
- Birthplace: Bratislava, Slovakia
- Position: C/W
- Handedness: L
- Draft Year Team: Sarnia Sting – OHL
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Ruzicka disappointed this season after I thought he could be a first-round type of player coming into the season. His assist totals weren’t gaudy in the OHL, but I think he has fine vision and can make creative plays. There might have been an issue of pace for him at times in juniors; the talent shines through — but inconsistently. Ruzicka is also able to play a decent power game and shows an above-average wrist shot. His skating is worrisome, however. He has a heavy first step, and though he can skate fine when he gets going, I worry if he’ll be able to put NHL defensemen on their heels.
From HockeyProspect.com’s 2016 NHL Draft Black Book:
A pro-sized forward, Ruzicka has several quality physical tools to his disposal. He has the size, the power and the skating to be a factor on each shift. Those aspects are backed up by his skill with the puck as he is a good stickhandler. Ruzicka’s ability to protect the puck, change angles of attack and skate through and around defenders is very good. He protects the puck well in open ice but less so on the wall where he could still do a better job with that big frame of his. Ruzicka has good hockey IQ and sees the ice well, although he could pass the puck a bit more often than he does. He is a dangerous shooter as he can walk into the slot and let it go quickly off his blade. Overall, Ruzicka is certainly a prospect to follow. He hasn’t yet exhibited the high-end impact that he is capable of on a consistent level but his upside is very good. We expect him to become a more consistent shift-by-shift threat next year.
A big bodied center that can be a beast on skates… a prototypical power forward frame, excellent puck control…has good puck skills…loves to control the puck on his stick carrying it with a calm confidence…very strong and with his impressive reach is almost impossible to knock off the puck when he wants to keep possession…not the most explosive skater and often seems to float around, but his top speed is real solid and he is near to impossible to stop once in full motion…creating chances for his teammates with skilled passes…has a really hard slap shot and accurate wrister…uses his body along the boards and throws some big hits…loves to create offense with his speed, hands and hockey sense…needs to cut down on the fly-bys and implement more starting and stopping on the puck to become more effective… battles for the pucks, plays responsibly in the defensive zone…has some definite room to grow in his play but could be a real stud once he reaches his full potential. (November 2016)
I must admit, I’m surprised we’ve ranked Ruzicka as highly as we have. Ruzicka is a near perfect example of everything we’ve historically cautioned against overvaluing at Canucks Army. He’s a big centre who looks the part of an NHL prospect in every way but doesn’t produce a tonne offensively. His underlying metrics don’t shine a more favourable light on his game, either.
When we look at the Sarnia Sting roster through www.Prospect-Stats.com, Ruzicka’s 26 primary points rank sixth among centres to play a game on the team and 19th among first-time draft eligible players from the OHL. Some of that’s opportunity related — Ruzicka’s 13.7 minutes at five-on-five rank 13th on the team. By that same token, Ruzicka shot at 14.4% at five-on-five with a solid if unspectacular shot rate.
Perhaps more concerning is that the Sting controlled about five percent more of the goals scored at five-on-five with Ruzicka on the bench as they did without him. His -4.88 GF%Rel ranks 124th among first-time draft-eligible skaters from the OHL.
I would altogether be lying though if I tried to suggest I don’t see some of what others are striking at where Ruzicka is concerned.
There are a lot of elements to Ruzicka’s physical toolkit that are supremely likeable. Whether I think the hockey world overvalues size or not, there’s something to the fact that Ruzicka can skate reasonably well with his build. He’s a player who gets around the net and flashes high-level creativity on the odd shift. I can see a scout looking at a player like Ruzicka and pondering all his yet untapped potential and what his team could make of it if they chart the right course for his post-draft development.
Perhaps Ruzicka’s strong performance at the Under-18 tournament flashed some of that. Playing in a premier role with an underdog Slovak side, Ruzicka was a point per game player with five points (two goals and three assists) in five games. Honestly, that tournament was some of the best hockey I’d ever seen Ruzicka play. If I was convinced he could bring that on a nightly basis, perhaps he’s higher on my board.
When we view Ruzicka’s last season through the lens of pGPS, we find that about 21.3% of players in his cohort went on to become full-time NHL’ers. Players in Ruzicka’s successful group of matches share an expected 46.9 points per 82 games played.
If there’s a team that sees Ruzicka as worth taking a middle round flier on, I certainly couldn’t blame them. In fact, I might advise as much once the draft turns to the third round.