Photo Credit: AS Sportfoto/Soerli Binder
German hockey fans have had a lot to cheer about over the past few years. Whether it be Germany’s unexpected silver medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games or the rise of Leon Draisaitl as one of the NHL’s top players – and the projected favorite to win the Hart Trophy this season – there has never been a better time to being a German supporter.
And it’s about to hit another new level later this year. A year after Moritz Seider went No. 6 to Detroit, the 2020 draft could see two players – Tim Stützle and John-Jason Peterka – go in the first round, with Lukas Reichel not far behind as a potential second-round selection. Only seven Germans have gone in the first round in NHL history and there has never been two in the same year, so we’re on the verge of history in the making.
Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield are seen as, more or less, the consensus No. 1-2 prospects. But Stützle is a feisty competitor in third, hoping to join Draisaitl as just the second German to make the NHL after going No. 3 in the draft (Orest Romashyna went No. 3 to Boston in 1963 but instead never made it out of the Canadian university ranks). And in a year with so much skill up front at the draft, that’s saying something.
Stützle took center stage during the World Junior Championship when he helped an impressive, but still underpowered German team avoid relegation and earn a spot at the 2021 edition. Will Stützle return? That’s yet to be known, but his play with the U-20 team, which saw him post 18 points in 13 games over the past two years, highlighted just how good the star forward can be against kids in his own age group. But what about at the pro level? Stützle’s 34 points in 41 games are good for third all-time by a U-18 player in the German league, but his 0.83 points-per-game average is far and away the best. His output helped Stützle earn DEL rookie of the year honors – a surprise to nobody – and showed that he can hang with the best the league has to offer. Now, it’s time for a promotion.
From talking to scouts, many seem split on whether Stützle will be a center or a winger in the NHL. Teams covet smart middlemen, and that’s Stützle’s calling. But others are concerned he’s not physically ready for the roll and that his quick footwork would serve him well on the breakout. He has experience at both, and the consensus seems to be that it’s all dependent on which team drafts them and their need for help down the middle. If Stützle does make it as a middleman, he’ll be a No. 1 center, no doubt.
The strength of the 2020 draft isn’t a secret – compared to Lafreniere or Byfield, Stützle’s game doesn’t have the overall explosiveness and high-end ability, but he’s still one of the most well-rounded prospects in the draft. He’s got traits any team would show interest in and his undesirable aspects are so minuscule – his game will transition to the NHL quite nicely. Let’s take a deep look at what makes Stützle so intriguing:
D.O.B – January 15, 2002
Nationality – Germany
Draft Eligibility – 2020
Height – 6’0
Weight – 187 lbs
Position – Center/Left Wing
Handedness – Left
Stützle’s Style Of Play
While pro experience for a junior prospect typically doesn’t matter five years down the line, Stützle’s ability to adapt his game against his nation’s top domestic league players is a sign that he shouldn’t have an issue adapting to playing against men. Part of that is because Stützle’s high-attack speed and ability to transition at an impressive rate of velocity allows him to keep up with the action and dictate where the puck will end up next. Some scouts consider Stützle to be the best skater in the draft, and it’s his ability to take away space and create his own with his footwork that makes him so elusive.
Stützle needs to use his speed to his advantage because while he has the skill level to handle himself effectively, his strength lacks compared to the likes of other top prospects such as Quinton Byfield or Anton Lundell. But he knows that, and he adapts his game to a point where he can use his other assets to fill the gaps. Stützle has room to add more physical mass, especially since speed at the NHL level isn’t going to be enough to win puck battles at a consistent rate – and it’s not like he can’t handle physical matchups along the boards, he just doesn’t have a high win rate against bigger competition – but he has found potent ways to handle the concern.
Depending on which scout you talk to, Stützle’s playmaking ability is the best aspect of his game. We saw it at the World Junior Championship with his five assists, finding his linemates in tough, high-pace situations and rarely failing to get a pass on target. For a player to perform at a level like this, they have to see the game at a rapid pace – and Stützle’s smarts with the disk highlights that fact.
USA has allowed its fourth PP goal against in this tournament. Tim Stutzle with a fantastic pass to John Peterka and it's 1-0 Germany. #WJC2020 pic.twitter.com/q1pvy9wbSa— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) December 27, 2019
Stützle often displays his tremendous playmaking skills on the power play, and his coaches at various levels have shown a strong willingness to let him control the man advantage. Like most stout passers, Stützle doesn’t look for the easy pass, but he almost always attempts the smart pass. When you look at the guys that do it best in the NHL – Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Nicklas Backstrom come to mind – they have the intelligence to wait a play out if it means getting a better result instead of just forcing a play and hoping it works out. Stützle’s high degree of patience and creativity is what helps him stand out from the draft class and a big reason why he’s tough to defend against.
Ideally, scouts would have liked to see more than seven goals in the DEL this season (and just 11 if you include international outings), but his shot is far from a concern. He’s got a dangerously quick release that allows him to pick corners and he’s no stranger to intentionally throwing the puck on net to create a rebound if he feels its a better way of creating a scoring chance – that bounces back to his quick-witted on-ice demeanor.
Back in his own zone, Stützle always seems to be engaged in the defensive side of the game and his speed allows him to catch opponents off guard on a reverse rush. There’s still room for improvement, though, and that’s partly because of him being a younger player in the DEL and not getting adequate opportunities to play a bigger defensive role, but that’s something he’ll have a lot of chances to practice at in the coming seasons.
Teams love prospects with confidence, and “cocky” is definitely a word that can be used to describe Stutzle’s game – but in a good way. He doesn’t doubt his decision making and he’s not afraid to let top competition force him to make a quick decision because he can handle the pressure. The game seems to always come to him, and when he’s not busy pulling off highlight-reel moves, he’s making his teammates better. Sometimes at the World Junior Championship, it looked like he was trying to do too much for a team that wouldn’t have put up as many close battles without him, but that just speaks to his overall skill level. He knows what he’s capable of and it shows on the scoresheet.
In short, the team that selects Stützle is getting a dynamic, two-way force with tremendous top speed and a great skillset with the puck. Sound like a player you’d be interested in?
Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers
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