The Calgary Flames have had a very mediocre start to the 2023–24 season. They currently sit third in the Pacific Division with a 2–2–1 record. The opening game was a 5–3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets, followed by a collapse against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a 3-2 shootout loss against the Washington Capitals. The Flames had back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday, picking up a 4–3 win against the Buffalo Sabres and a 3–1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Despite the mediocre start, there have been a couple of bright spots so far, Adam Ruzicka being one of them.
Looking at Ruzicka’s numbers
Adam Ruzicka is sitting tied for second with three other players in points for the Flames—the only Flame ahead is Elias Lindholm. He’s earned that second-place position by scoring four points in the first five games of the season. He has split his scoring evenly with two goals and two assists. Of these four points, two have come at 5v5, both of which were goals. His two assists have come on the power play—one primary and one secondary. At all strengths, the Flames have outscored opponents 5–4 with Ruzicka on the ice; at 5v5, the score becomes a tie at 3–3.
Now let’s look at some underlying numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com at 5v5 score- and venue-adjusted.
Compared to his production as well as just overall, these results are pretty lacklustre. When looking at the breakdown of the stats, it appears to be a problem with generating chances rather than a defensive struggle. It’s possible that the stats are weighed down by his line not clicking, as Nazem Kadri and Dillon Dube both have some bad numbers themselves. Ruzicka has a PDO of 1.011, meaning he has been lucky so far which makes sense considering his numbers. His luckiness seems to come from his shooting as he currently has an on-ice shooting percentage of 12.09.
Complementing and fixing play-style
While his production is promising, it will be interesting to watch how the rest of Ruzicka’s season goes. He has the skill to be a productive player as we’ve seen before, but he has also had struggles with using his size which goes hand and hand with his consistency issues. Last season, there was a 24-game stretch where Ruzicka had put up 20 points. After that stretch, there wasn’t nearly as much production. Part of this was because of the issues in his game, but a larger factor was the unfair demotion he received from the old bench boss, Darryl Sutter. Three weak games from Ruzicka ended up with him spending the rest of the season as a fourth-liner or healthy scratch. Ryan Huska has stressed the idea of giving younger players more opportunities so it would be incredibly surprising if we saw that type of demotion for Ruzicka again.
For Ruzicka to continue to produce, he needs to stay in a top-nine role. Currently, he isn’t a play driver. Sometimes he makes aggressive pushes to the net but it isn’t consistent enough yet for him to be considered a play driver. Ruzicka has a quieter style of hockey. He stays to the outside, which makes defenders loosen their guard on him, either leaving him open or with weak cover.
He uses that space to make passes or silently get into a scoring position resulting in goals or assists. Another thing I’ve noticed is that Ruzicka tends to watch puck battles. If his teammates win the battle, he’s in a perfect position to receive the puck and possibly score. This is exactly how he got his goal in Buffalo on Thursday. For now, based on his play style, Ruzicka needs more aggressive and higher-quality linemates to succeed.
If Ruzicka learns to use his size, it’s likely he could develop play-driving skills that he’s missing. This would go a long way for his game. He already has an idea of when to pass and shoot, the only problem is he waits for the opportunity. If he can learn to make opportunities and chances on his own, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if Ruzicka became a huge piece for the Flames.
Ruzicka will be an interesting player to watch
Adam Ruzicka has started the season as one of the Flames’ best offensive producers. He’s currently playing a top-six role and hasn’t shown much to say that he doesn’t deserve it. Ruzicka is a quiet player, striking when the opposition is vulnerable. This can become an issue when he waits for the play to come to him as he struggles to develop it himself. This makes it so Ruzicka’s success comes from the aggressiveness of his teammates and how he is utilized. So far, he has been utilized correctly, reflecting his production. Inconsistencies are still showing up in his game, but if he can exorcise them fully, we will see a great year for Ruzicka.