Darryl Sutter is known for favouring his veterans over younger players. It wasn’t surprising when none of the best Calgary Flames rookies failed to make the team out of camp, and why the call-ups from Stockton have included the likes of Walker Duehr and Byron Froese and not players like Matthew Phillips and Jakob Pelletier.
However, Adam Ruzicka earned a call-up to the big squad, and is already proving that he not only belongs in the NHL, but deserves a full-time roster spot.
The Flames’ fourth line has most frequently been centered by veteran Brad Richardson, but Ruzicka should be the pivot on that line for the foreseeable future. He’s lapped Richardson and is getting better with each game he plays.
Let’s break it down.
Ahead of tonight’s Flames contest, the bookies have predicted a close favourite, with Betway Sports pricing the Flames at -120 and Blue Jackets at +210 to win the game in regulation, with an overtime decision being priced at +340.
Ruzicka has come a long way since he was drafted by the Flames in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Draft. He offers an upside that Richardson just simply doesn’t at this stage of his career, and has done well to adapt to the NHL level so far this season.
He’s 14 years younger than Richardson, four inches taller, and 30 pounds heavier. Ruzicka’s style and stature screams power forward and he’s proving he can hang with the big boys. Both players have two goals on the season, and Richardson has also put up a pair of assists. However, Richardson has played over four times as many minutes as Ruzicka, so the only fair way to compare these players is by using /60 rates. All stats are taken at 5v5 and are from NaturalStatTrick.com.
Adjusting for TOI, Ruzicka is producing goals at over four times and points at over twice the rate of Richardson. Ruzicka has yet to register an assist, but he could have easily had another goal against the Blues but was rudely stopped by Jordan Binnington.
The offensive edge that Ruzicka has is nice to see and also not a surprise. When he was called up to the Flames, he was leading the AHL in goals per game. He has a nice touch around the net and has converted at a very nice rate through his six NHL games so far.
Richardson has been quite terrible in terms of possession this season, so the bar to clear him isn’t really that high.
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Still though, Ruzicka is more than holding his own in both Corsi and scoring chances, but is underwater in high-danger chances. That being said, his high-danger chance ratio is still significantly better than Richardson’s mark that is truly dreadful.
There is still room for Ruzicka to improve here with high-danger chances. The actual rate of high-danger chances against is fairly similar between both players, but Ruzicka’s line creates almost 60% more high-danger chances for.
When looking deeper at goals and expected goals, the same pattern emerges.
Ruzicka generates more goals, fewer goals against, and a dominant on-ice goals ratio. The raw numbers here are three on-ice goals for and one against for Ruzicka, and five for and seven against for Richardson. In just a fraction of the ice time, Ruzicka and his linemates are putting up comparable goal numbers.
On the expected goals side, Ruzicka dominates Richardson in expected goals for, but gives up slightly more expected goals against. Ruzicka’s ratio is much better than Richardson’s, though both fall below the 50% mark.
A clear winner
It really isn’t particularly close. Ruzicka is the clear winner in almost every category. To add onto his solid underlying numbers this season, Ruzicka shoots significantly more than Richardson does, takes fewer penalties, and has a better penalty ratio.
The only thing Richardson has on Ruzicka is the faceoff dot. Richardson is a very impressive 61% on faceoffs at 5v5 this season while Ruzicka is sitting at 50% on the dot. With time, Ruzicka could improve his faceoff skills, but with this being the only real benefit to having Richardson over Ruzicka in the lineup, it’s a no-brainer to play Ruzicka, especially since he’s neutral in the dot anyway.
He’s earned his spot and gives the Flames a better chance to win. Perhaps a few of his Stockton teammates will have a similar impact down the road, but right now Ruzicka should be here to stay.