Rough-and-tumble Raska right on track

Photo: Abbotsford Canucks

📝 Nick Nollenberger | AHL On The Beat

The San Jose Sharks have been notorious for finding value in the later rounds of the NHL Draft: Joe Pavelski (2003, round 7, #205 overall), Justin Braun (’07, round 7, #201 overall), Tommy Wingels (’08, round 6, #177 overall), Dylan DeMelo (’11, round 6, #179), Kevin Labanc (’14, round 6, #171 overall), and so on.

They hope Adam Raska, 20, can one day join that list.

The Sharks selected the Czech-born forward with the 16th-to-last pick, #201 overall, in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Of his fellow draftees, Raska is one of just six players selected after the first round to appear in NHL games.

If you looked purely at his numbers this season, one might not think his eight points (three goals, five assists) in 27 games with the Barracuda would warrant an NHL opportunity. But that would mean you’ve never seen him play.

At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Raska is not a physically imposing player, but don’t tell him that. Raska plays with reckless abandon and an unmatched motor. His style made him one of the last cuts by the Sharks this past fall and has earned him five games in the NHL this season.

His relentless approach was on full display in just his fourth NHL game on Jan. 20, when he bodychecked Seattle Kraken captain Mark Giordano, 18 years his senior, on the end wall. That hit first drew the ire of 6-foot-5, 211-pound Carson Soucy, who cross-checked him in response to the hit, and then Giordano dropped the gloves moments later and began throwing haymakers on the young forward.

Did it stop him from applying the body later in the game? Nope. Raska continued to throw bodycheck after bodycheck.

At the AHL level, he’s built a reputation in his first year of pro as a guy that you love to play with but can’t stand to play against. One of the best compliments a player can receive.

Despite the Barracuda’s struggles from a win-loss standpoint this year, Raska has been a constant of energy and enthusiasm. Beyond just his full-throttle style of play, he’s one of the team’s most lovable characters in the locker room. Always laughing and smiling.

It took the freshman forward until his 14th AHL game to collect his first point, the only goal for the team in a 5-1 loss to the Abbotsford Canucks on Dec. 11. Since that goal, he’s recorded seven points over his last 13 games.

“I think I was struggling at the beginning,” said Raska. “But somehow I just keep up and try to improve every point of my game.”

The beautiful thing about Raska’s game is that even when he’s not producing offensively, he still finds a way to be a difference-maker.

“He never cheats you when he goes over the wall,” said Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer. “You always know what you’re going to get.”

Raska’s infectious positivity in the room and all-gas no-break approach comes from his love for the sport.

“I enjoy every moment on the ice,” said Raska. “It doesn’t matter if you’re winning or losing. If I didn’t love the sport, I wouldn’t play hockey. I like to do things that I like to do. If I didn’t like it, I would never play hockey.”

Photo: Kavin Mistry

Raska’s not just a one-dimensional player. Last year, his second and final season in the QMJHL, he was over a point-per-game with the Rimouski Oceanic, scoring 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 22 contests, while finishing with 30 penalty minutes. He nearly surpassed all his rookie offensive numbers in 13 fewer games. This season, he has sat out on two different occasions due to injury, which has impacted his offensive productivity, but he’s still shown flashes that the scoring touch he had in junior can translate to the pros. But even when he’s not scoring, he’s creating chances for his linemates.

“He brings a lot of energy to the table, and there was one stretch where he was almost a point a game for us,” said Sommer.

“He’s playing up (in the lineup), probably further than he should, maybe, but that is how important he is for us and the organization. He goes out there and creates loose pucks, you’ve got to have a good F2 (second forward) if you play with him because he’s going to get to the defensemen and he’s going to knock pucks loose and it’s the responsibility of that second guy coming in to pick pucks up. And he does finish every hit, he hurries D-men into turnovers, so if you’re playing with him, you’re going to get turnovers and scoring opportunities.”

Raska is the only player on the team (minimum of 10 games) to have a plus rating (+1) and all eight of his points have been generated at either five-on-five or while down a man.

Like most players in the AHL, Raska knows that if he wants to reach the highest level on a full-time basis, he’ll need to continue to grow his game in all areas. But one major point of emphasis, for the youngest player on the Barracuda, is increasing his offensive output.

“I’m trying to improve handling puck because I’m not that skill guy,” said Raska. “So, after every practice, I’m just trying to stay on the ice a little bit longer, just to make something more.”

One of Raska’s best tools is his outlook and approach to the game. Now halfway through his first pro season in North America, he says, the game doesn’t slow down but things do get easier depending on your preparation and attitude.

“I don’t think it’s slowing down, it’s always the same, it just depends on how you prepare. How you prepare one, two days before the game and how you’re feeling out there. If you cannot score or you cannot pass, you have a bad attitude, it will always be fast.”

As his game continues to round out, it’ll only be a matter of time before Raska becomes too hard to not recall. His style of play is just too undeniable.