Ruzicka knows draft eyes are out at World Juniors

Scott Wheeler2017 Draft Center, Features, IIHF, International Events, OHL

Aaron Bell | CHL Images

Adam Ruzicka isn’t letting his age or the pressure affect him at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Ruzicka, eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft, is the third-youngest player on Slovakia behind 2018 prospects Milos Roman and Martin Fehervary.

He knows those in the stands are paying particular attention.

“I’m a young player,” said Ruzicka, 63rd in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking for the 2017 draft. “All eyes are on me with all of the scouts and managers from NHL teams so this is important for me.”

Ruzicka is one of only two first-time 2017 draft hopefuls along with Marian Studenic of the Hamilton Bulldogs. Samuel Bucek, another fellow Canadian Hockey League (CHL) prospect and 2017 draft hopeful, isn’t playing in the tournament suffering a knee injury in exhibition action.

As such, Ruzicka will draw plenty of attention.

But the international stage isn’t new to the 17-year-old.

Even though this is Ruzicka’s first time representing Slovakia at the World Juniors, it’s his third consecutive year playing for his country.

In 2014-2015, he captained Slovakia at the Under-16 Worlds before serving as an assistant at the under-17 Challenge in the same year. Last year, he again served as an assistant at the U17s before captaining Slovakia’s entry at theIvan Hlinka Memorial Cup this summer, picking up four points in as many games.

His latest bid started Tuesday.

In Slovakia’s first game of the World Juniors, Ruzicka ran into a Canadian team that had already rolled past Russia with a 5-3 victory the night before.

He has begun the tournament centering Slovakia’s third line with Filip Lestan and assistant captain Radovan Bondra (Chicago Blackhawks). The trio, all more than 6-foot-4, forms one of the biggest lines in this year’s World Juniors.

Ruzicka made his presence felt with a huge open-ice hit on Canadian assistant captain Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), but he struggled to create offense in a game that saw Slovakia outshot 31-3 through 40 minutes. Ruzicka recorded his first shot, and Slovakia’s fifth, in the third period.

Despite the ensuing 5-0 loss, outshot 44-6, Ruzicka remained positive.

“It was a good start. It was a great experience,” he said. “We played 0-0 game with Canada in the first period. Canada is the best team in the world, every line is fast and there’s players who played in the NHL too, so that’s pretty hard for us.”

Goaltender Adam Huska (New York Rangers) knows that despite the numbers, the World Juniors is an excellent showcase for his draft eligible teammates.

“This is a great opportunity for them,” Huska said. “It’s the best opportunity they have.”

Ruzicka is trying to make another.

The Sarnia Sting took him in the second round of the 2016 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, and, in the summer, he sat down with his agent and decided the move to North America was the best option for his career.

This season, Ruzicka has 12 goals and 22 points in 32 games, good for fourth in team scoring after picking up nine points in his final 10 games ahead of the World Juniors.

Among under-18 OHL forwards, Ruzicka ranks 17th in points-per-game.

After a tough transition, the youngster is showing well on that stage, too.

“I’m good now,” he said.

“But early on it was pretty tough for me with the small rink, and it being faster and harder.”