What a difference one season can make. A season ago, Adam Ruzicka seemed like a decent prospect but it was unclear how he would translate to the pro game. After a season in the American Hockey League, the big-bodied Slovakian centre looks like he could challenge for a call-up very soon.

Ruzicka is the 11th-ranked prospect on this year’s countdown.

How did we get here? 

A product of Bratislava, Slovakia, Ruzicka played extensively in the minor hockey system in his hometown as a youngster. He constantly played above his age class and performed well:

  • In 2012-13, he dabbled in U-18 hockey as a 13-year-old
  • In 2013-14, he played a full year of U-18 as a 14-year-old
  • In 2014-15, he left home at 15 to play for Pardubice (in the Czech Republic) and played for their U-16, U-18 and U-20 clubs (and he played in the World Under-17s)
  • In 2015-16, at 16-years-old, he played U-18 and U-20 hockey (and played in the World Under-18s)
  • In 2016-17, at 17-years-old, he left his home continent and headed to play for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting as an import.

By the time Ruzicka left major junior hockey, he had played in two Hlinka tournaments, a World Under-17s, two World Under-18s and three World Juniors. He had also played three seasons in the OHL and parts of two seasons in the Czech junior league.

The Flames drafted Ruzicka in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Draft. He was lauded for his size and smarts, but criticized a bit by scouts for his lack of consistency. If he could be consistently engaged, it was suggested, he could be something special. (Even with this “fault,” he scored 96 goals over three OHL campaigns.)

Ruzicka made the leap to the AHL in 2019-20 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old. After a slow start, he managed to finish the season strong. He impressed Flames brass enough to earn an invite to the NHL club’s post-COVID Phase 3 training camp. He didn’t get an invite to the bubble, but he gained invaluable experience in the process.

Stats, numbers, and everything therein 

In his first taste of pro hockey, Ruzicka acquitted himself pretty well. He had 10 goals and 27 points over 54 AHL games. He was 10th on the team in points – behind nine older players named Glenn Gawdin, Alan Quine, Byron Froese, Austin Czarnik, Matthew Phillips, Buddy Robinson, Luke Philp, Justin Kirkland and Zac Leslie. He was tied with Eetu Tuulola for ninth on the Heat in goals, trailing behind Froese, Philp, Robinson, Gawdin, Czarnik, Phillips, Quine and Ryan Lomberg. Given he was a true AHL freshman, he performed relatively well.

In the first 40 games of Ruzicka’s season, he had seven goals and 15 points. In the remaining 14 games – from early February onwards – he had three goals and 12 points. If he can produce steadily at a clip remotely close to that closing pace, he’ll be in the hunt for NHL games before too long.

Those in the know 

Stockton head coach Cail MacLean gave us this quick assessment of Ruzicka’s first pro season:

I think that he had a great finish to his junior career and I thought that everyone saw good progression as he was coming out of junior and he continued on that trend. The bottom line with Adam is he’s a really big body, a really smooth skater, smooth hands, and is able to use a range of strengths that we could see throughout the season as he matured, he certainly showed it more and more and really gets you excited. So I think now the big challenge for Adam is going to be, is he going to be able to raise his pace and competitiveness to a level where he’s able to, it’s not fair to say a young player has to dominate every game, but is he able to really be a presence every single time he’s on the ice. And if he can do that, he’s got some really good things on the horizon.

On the horizon

Ruzicka has two seasons remaining on his entry level deal and he’s destined for Stockton, whenever their season eventually gets going. He impressed at the post-COVID camp and now that the initial shock of transitioning to pro hockey is behind him, expectations are going to be higher for him in 2020-21.

Ruzicka’s big, smart and offensively talented. If he can unlock his consistency and contribute on a regular basis (offensively and otherwise), he could be a very exciting asset for the Flames for the long term.

FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects 2020

The no-votes Missed the cut
#20: Tyler Parsons #19: Alexander Yelesin
#18: Ryan Francis #17: Martin Pospisil
#16: Luke Philp #15: Eetu Tuulola
#14: Johannes Kinnvall #13: Ilya Nikolayev
#12: Yan Kuznetsov