Photo Credit: Peter Schatz / Alamy Live News
Scouting Report written by Alex Appleyard
Julian Lutz is the latest high-end prospect to hail from Germany. 15 to 20 years ago a German as talented as him would be big news in the hockey world, but the fact it is not shows just how far the nation has come in regards to their talent pipeline. Over 14 drafts, from the year 2000 to 2018, there were just three Germans taken inside the first two rounds of the NHL draft, Marcel Goc, Phillip Gogula and Leon Draisaitl. Since 2019? That figure stands at four players, and Lutz has a good chance to be number five in the last four drafts.
However, were it not for a serious injury that he suffered in summer of 2021 then Lutz may have been in contention to go inside the first round. The injury in question was a fatigue fracture of his lumbar spine, resulting in him missing seven months of hockey and only returning in February. Despite the time missed, Lutz jumped straight into the DEL – Germany’s highest tier of pro hockey – and more than held his own from the get go. He then led Germany in scoring with four points in four games as they were eliminated in the Quarter-finals at the u-18 WJC in April.
While there are injury questions, Lutz has been on NHL teams radars for several years already, being the “star” player for both his junior national team at every level since u-16, as well as being the latest high-end player to roll off the Red Bull Hockey Academy production line, following the likes of Noah Dobson, JJ Peterka and Sampo Ranta. So while he may fall in the draft, don’t expect him to fall too far.
So where does the winger from Weingarten “win” when on the ice? And where does he need to improve in order to carve out a career at the highest level of hockey on earth?
D.O.B – February 29, 2004
Nationality – Germany
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –190 lbs
Position – Left Wing
Handedness – Left
Lutz’s Style Of Play
It is worth noting that over his young career so far the big forward has played all three forward positions. However, it is hard to see him being a Center at the highest level. He is more effective at wing, which makes sense given the way he plays.
His offensive game is built around three major aspects of his skill-set. Skating, seam-finding and spunk. The skating will be discusses in greater depth below, but he utilises his skills in this area extremely effectively to create space for himself, using his edges and acceleration to be a menace both on and off the puck in the offensive zone. On the puck he can drive opponents crazy with tight turns combined with great puck-protection to create chances from either the walls or on the cycle, while off the puck he causes defensemen headaches all game long due to his ability to get into passing lanes, as well as capacity to pressure opponents without taking himself out of the play.
In turn, Lutz’s forechecking really is a thing of beauty. His skating is the foundation for it, but it is his heart that is the core reason for its success. Every single shift of the game Lutz attacks the puck like it is the last shift of his career. But not only is he relentless in his puck pursuit, he is smart in regards to the way he approaches applying pressure. He has an intuitive understanding of passing lanes, and his quick active stick at times seems to read what the opposition is going to do before they know. The result is that Lutz often backs defensemen into corners that the struggle to get out of, pressures them into turnovers, or simply pursues them into the boards and turns what could have been a routine outlet into a possession battle.
This tenaciousness also transfers into his ability around the net. Lutz seems to relish being involved is physical battles for position around the crease and slot, and even when outmatched physically does not back down or give up on trying to get loose or goal-side of the defender at the key moment. The result of this is that even in battles that he is seemingly losing he can, from nowhere, get his stick free to deflect a puck on goal or surprise the defenseman and get to the blue-paint just as a puck is fired cross-crease. In turn, Lutz is able to cash in on a lot of rebounds, jam plays or loose pucks in close. Such chance creation often translates well to the higher level on smaller ice.
As one can infer from the abilities that have already been mentioned, IQ is a key aspect of Lutz’s success in the offensive zone. In turn, he has the key ability that most NHL scorers have, the ability to get to high-danger areas of the ice unmarked and into shooting lanes. Off the puck especially he reads the play very well, and in a sport where milli-seconds matter often chooses the perfect moment to make a break into a “soft” area of ice just as a defenseman vacates his post or shifts assignment in zonal coverage. The result is often Lutz with the puck on his stick in close or in the slot. His hockey IQ is also an advantage with the puck on his stick. He is capable of seeing passes that very few players his age can, and is fantastic at drawing opposition players in to create space for his line-mates.
So Lutz is tenacious, fast and has a high IQ, but how to his “skills” stack up? The easy way to put it is that Lutz, in terms of raw skill, is a jack of all trades but a master of none.
His hands? He uses them effectively and can handle a puck at high speed, but he is not the most deceptive or creative with the puck on his stick, and does not excel in using his hands to beat opponents with the puck on his stick, but more his skating, IQ and strength. In the small areas his hands are once again a vehicle for his skating and IQ, and not the other way around, he rarely loses control of the puck, but also rarely does something “special” with it.
His shot? It is certainly above average, and he possesses a decent wrister and a nice one-timer that he uses effectively when on the power-play. But Lutz scores many of his goals on rebounds, in close, or on from tips and deflections, and the majority of his “range” goals are not due to a seeing eye shot that nestles in the top corner, and instead catching a goalie unaware, or capitalising on the moments that a goalie is screened, or when they are committed to a movement and unable to adjust. The impressive technical aspect in relation to his shot is his release, it is not hard, or as quick as others, but he can get the puck off from virtually any position and can coral a puck beautifully from the heel or backhand into the meat of the blade to effect shots that many could not. Again, his IQ is where he wins in relation to his shot as well.
His passing? It is not a technical masterclass full of saucers, one-touch or 100ft stretches to tape… but instead an efficient exercise in awareness and due diligence. Lutz constantly surveys the ice with the puck on his stick, you can see the cogs turning as he evaluates how to break down coverage, where his team-mates will be in a few seconds time, and how to exploit the oppositions weaknesses. The result of this is that several times a game he can spring a line-mate into a dangerous position by simply picking the exact right moment for a pass. His vision also means that from time to time he can make an unbelievable pass that no-one else on ice could have foreseen.
Overall there is a lot to like about Lutz’s offensive game. He might not have the high-end skills to ever be a star player at the next level, but he is well-rounded and plays in a way that in theory should translate well to the smaller ice.
You would expect that a winger with such a high level motor alongside a good stick, a high IQ, experience playing center and multiple years of pro hockey experience by the time they reached 18 would be a defensive stalwart for his age. However, with Lutz defense has been something that many prospect watchers have highlighted as something that needs to improve.
Firstly, it is important to note that Lutz, for the most part, has the right intentions defensively. Like in the offensive zone you can never really fault his work ethic, and he is not one to shirk any responsibilities on defense. Furthermore, when play is contracted and he has to drop deeper in a more condensed zonal set-up, covering men around the circles and slot, he is very effective, able to use his high IQ to strip pucks and block lanes, and his physical ability to engage puck-carriers and disrupt the play.
His issues on defense, however, come most often when play is stretched on the cycle and the puck is moving D-to-D or high-to-low. In such situations Lutz has a tendency to be too aggressive. You can see him itching to try and regain the puck and send play the other way. This in itself is not an issue. But Lutz needs to pick his spots better. Too often he misses on an aggressive play and the result is a point-man able to walk in 30ft from the blue-line with Lutz hung out to dry. Furthermore, in the defensive zone he does not seem to anticipate plays quite as well as he does in the offensive zone. In turn it seems like he spends more time reacting to what has happened and trying to catch up than being a step ahead.
The result is that there are moments, especially at the pro level, where one poor – but not back-breaking – play defensively from Lutz can compound into something far worse and results in a high percentage chance against. Some of this will certainly improve as he matures, and realises that against men he cannot make the same plays he can against his peers. Given his high IQ you would expect the young German to make the necessary adjustments over time to become at very worst an average or above average defensive winger.
There is, however, some real nuance to criticisms of his defense. Over the last two seasons, of the 61 games he has played at club level, just four have come at the junior level. The rest have been split between the DEL, the ICEHL, and the Alps Hockey League, all professional leagues where the majority of competitors are men with years of experience under their belts. While the leagues are not at the level of the KHL, SHL, Liiga or NLA, it is still a lofty expectation for a 16-18 year old to be a plus defensive player, even if they do have good size and a high IQ. This fact, alongside being “solid” defensively this year at the highest level he has ever played at – the DEL – despite being thrown into the league for the first time ever right off the back off a long-term, serious injury, means it is reasonable to expect that Lutz will continue to improve in the defensive zone simply with time.
As previously touched on, skating is one of Lutz’s strengths. However, there are still aspects in this area that he needs to work on to fulfill his potential.
First, for the good. For an 18 year old playing vs men his strength on his skates is exceptional. He is rarely knocked off the puck and utilises his sharp edge work to excel in the small areas of ice. His feet are constantly moving in such situations and he can make far more experienced players look silly in multiple ways, either by getting low and out-muscling them, or dummying or duking them with the knowledge that few will be able to match him for agility. It is not just on the puck that he uses this aspect of his skating with aplomb. His ability to get to the “soft” areas of ice unmarked is also predicated mainly on his edge work. He loves to lure defenders in to a false sense of security when off the puck, before picking his moment, usually inside the circles, to make a quick move to engage a pick play and get to the slot or net, or to kick out wide and then cut back under the defenseman to get to high danger areas.
In addition to the impressive lower-body strength and clean, crisp edge-work, Lutz can create chances or recover back into plays due to his acceleration. From a virtual standing start he can get to his top speed in a short span of time. Furthermore, as soon as he sees a gap on the cycle he can explode past defenders and turn an oppositions defensive scheme on its head and cause them to scramble to pick up new assignments. This ability to change the pace of the game in a moment, especially when established in the offensive zone, is something that many effective offense-oriented NHL wingers can do. If a defenseman switches off for a second when covering him then it is virtually certain an opportunity will come for his team.
Lutz also carries the puck very well at speed, and is confident in stride with the puck on his stick. In fact, there is virtually no difference in pace for him with or without possession. He uses this confidence alongside his edge-work and acceleration to be effective in transition, and a real threat when bearing down on defenders 1v1, as he can either change up a gear and go past them, or change down a gear, lure them in, then finesse past them with puck-control and lateral skating ability.
In terms of where Lutz can get better, his top-speed, while certainly not an issue, could really improve and make him an even more dangerous player. He has a solid, long, stride without any real technical flaws, something only to be expected from a Red Bull Academy product, with them being known across Europe for their high-end skating development. However, while he gets up to speed quickly at times it seems as though he is effectively “stuck” in fourth gear, and incapable of getting up to where you would expect in full stride, given the high-end nature of the rest of his skating. This sometimes means that he will blast past a player over a 20ft space in the defensive or neutral zone, before being reeled back in up ice. Now, this rarely causes any issues for Lutz, but potentially with more added strength as he matures he could further improve his top-speed and mean a close to spotless skating resume.
Realistically, given his talent level, skill-set and development so far, it is likely that Lutz high-end upside is that of a good second line winger, who year on year could produce in the range of 50 points. In terms of floor? It is hard to see Lutz becoming less than a very good AHL player. Lutz is also the kind of forward who if he does not reach his ceiling he could still provide real value at the NHL level in a bottom six role given the tenacity he plays with alongside his well-rounded base skill-set.
June 16, 2022
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Alex Appleyard If you would like to follow Alex on Twitter, his handle is @avappleyard.
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