It’s not too often that we see a top prospect from a country not named Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, or Russia. Even former hockey superpowers like the Czech Republic — who, when combined with Slovakia, were a perennial contender at international tournaments — have only produced two top-10 picks in the last decade: 2018’s Filip Zadina (#6) and 2015’s Pavel Zacha (#6).
So for Germany to potentially have another top-10 pick this year, and potentially three in the first-round is astounding. They would join Switzerland (2010’s #5 Nino Neiderreiter; 2015’s #9 Timo Meier; 2017’s #1 Nico Hischier) as the only other non-superpower country in the last decade to produce three top-10 picks.
While Leon Draisaitl (2014 #3) is already a star in the NHL and Moritz Seider (2019 #6) looks like he’s going to be a stabilizing presence for a long time, Tim Stützle is the only German player ever to be ranked as the top European prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting. He’s a wizard, with top-end speed, deceptive hands, and the vision to drive opposing teams bonkers.
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Adler Mannheim||DEL||6'0"||187 lbs||3 - 5||#1 (Euro)|
Stützle may have burst onto the scene with style for many of us at the world U20s this year, but he’s always been a well-regarded talent in European circles. In fact, if it wasn’t for his top-end production in Germany’s top men’s league (DEL) this year, we’d all be talking about him crossing the pond to join Angus Crookshank at the University of New Hampshire, as he committed to the collegiate program as a 15-year-old.
Tim Stützle a top 15-year-old prospect from Germany has committed to UNH. 2nd leading scorer in German U19 League for Mannheim Young Eagles 14GP 12G 15A https://t.co/zOLwhi5BUT Details to follow on https://t.co/7jaICBQTxU Video highlights https://t.co/4RKnwV6QcA @UNHMHOCKEY— Mike Lowry (@UNHHockeyBlog) December 31, 2017
Fans of Stützle’s game will tell you that his performance against men this year wasn’t entirely unexpected, as he’s been playing against talent much older than him since he started playing hockey professionally. Case in point? Stützle spent two seasons in Germany’s U16 league starting when he was 13, and led the league in points as an underager. As a 15-year-old in Germany’s U19 league, he finished fourth in points-per-game (min. 10GP) and got his first taste of international play — contributing to Germany’s silver medal at the Division I U18s.
Then, at 16, Stützle solidified himself as a top prospect among his age class. First, he led Germany’s U20 league in points-per-game, with 2.62, en route to a championship. Then, he had nine points in five games at the Division I U18s, avenging his country’s loss in the final game last season and being named the tournament’s best forward as an underager.
That brings us to this season, where he suited up for Adler Mannheim in the DEL. In 41 regular season games, he had 34 points (7G, 27A) and 132 shots on goal while playing top-six minutes and on the first powerplay unit. At this year’s U20 World Championships, he helped Germany avoid its hard-earned promotion by defeating Kazakhstan in the relegation round. He had five assists and averaged 18:43 of ice-time in five contests, and really opened the eyes of many North American-focused fans and analysts to his high-energy, creative style of play.
Stützle is a well-rounded threat with the puck, and it’s his combination of tools — rather than just an elite trait on one of them — that makes him such a difficult opponent to defend.
The first tool everyone notices is his skating, where he owns elite two-step quickness and strong edge work that allows him to manoeuvre anywhere on the ice with ease and evade coverage from onlooking defenders. He can make any of his plays at top speed, whether it’s blending crossovers on the powerplay to turning on a dime when he’s retreating to the half-walls for space in the offensive zone. His skating talent and creativity is what lets him find time to unleash a quick and effective wrist shot, a weapon that does not have the long-range effect of an Alexander Holtz, but can score from medium-danger areas.
While many reports noticed that he sometimes overhandles the puck, in part by hanging onto it for a little too long, he has the courage and skill to try and execute plays like this on a regular basis — showcasing decent hands.
His playmaking ability is in conversation with Lafrenière and Raymond’s, where he can be a patient, smart distributor of the puck — especially on the powerplay — where he was seen at the point, along the half-walls, or in the slot this season. I’d personally be tempted to put him along the walls because he gives him the most amount of space to use his skating to open up lanes while making opponents respect his vision, but the versatility is a plus when he joins an NHL club that may already have top weapons in defined roles already.
Of course, none of this is possible without strong hockey sense. The fact that he was all over the ice as a 17-year-old among men — and an underager in other competitions before this — speaks by itself to his ability to win the trust of a coaching staff.
For a thorough breakdown of Stützle’s game on a shift-by-shift basis, I recommend reading this piece from Dobber Prospects’ Jokke Nevalainen.
Let’s start with this: while top German prospects — including the aforementioned Draisaitl — took a different path to the NHL, Stützle’s draft-year performance in the DEL ranks first all-time in points-per-game. That’s ahead of his compatriots and decent NHLers Marcel Goc, Marco Sturm, and Jochen Hecht.
That Stützle’s 0.83 points-per-game also ranked him 24th in the league is noteworthy, especially if you’re a team thinking about potentially putting him straight into the NHL next year. The similarly-sized Dominik Kahun, a Czech forward who’s now establishing himself in the NHL at age 24, put up 41 points in 42 games as a 22-year-old with EHC München before having a 37-point season with the Chicago Blackhawks last year.
Both Sam Happi (@DraftLook) and Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) have tried to put Stützle’s production in the DEL in context this season. In an article you should read comparing the play of Stützle with Lucas Raymond, Happi notes:
Adjusting Raymond’s statistics to DEL scoring levels, we can estimate that the Swede would have produced at a clip of about 3.1 points/60 in the German circuit. Remember, Stützle managed 3.09 points/60, so the gap between the two is absolutely miniscule when we look at it in this fashion. That large gap has completely dissipated after accounting for just a few factors– yet another example of how context is key. There are a few other statistical trends to explore here. 68% of Stützle’s points came at even-strength, compared to 70% for Raymond. Again, very similar. 62% of Stützle’s points were primary– goals or primary assists– versus 80% for Raymond. More of a difference now: Raymond didn’t find the scoresheet a whole lot, but he was very involved in the points that he did manage– more so than Stutzle.
Nevalainen, who ranks the DEL slightly below Finland’s Liiga and along the same level as Jonathan Dahlen’s Allsvenskan, attempted to compare the DEL to the AHL, and estimated that his points-per-game in the AHL this season would’ve been around 0.65-0.70.
Tracking data comes in handy here when we’re trying to see what elements of a player’s game is the strongest relative to others (usually their peers) in a dataset, and we have some data courtesy of Finlay Sherratt. In the chart below, you can see Stützle’s top-tier vision on display by noticing how often he was putting the puck into dangerous areas for his team to score. It’s hard to put his entries and exits numbers in context with other draft-eligibles, but that he was able to gain the zone that often against men in his league is a positive sign — as is Mannheim’s 74% CF% when Stützle was on the ice. Other work from Daniel Weinberger has shown that when Stützle was on the ice, Mannheim generated 3.63 xG for per 60, 36% more than the average DEL player, and 2.32 xG against per 60.
There aren’t many drawbacks to note with a player like Stützle — or any of the players we’ve profiled so far who are the cream of a high-end draft class — but if I’m attempting to find some, here’s what I’ll note.
First, while we’ve seen that the DEL stacks up well to a tier II Swedish league, a con of both of these leagues as compared to the SHL and Liiga are often in the lack of quality depth as you go down the league. Four of the 14 teams were baaaaad this year, and when you think about how Stützle played top minutes on the second-best team in the league, there was ample opportunity for him to carve up inferior opponents — regardless of the fact that they were men. I don’t think this is something you can slight Stützle for too much because it’s completely out of control, but facing quality competition is often why top German prospects like Dominik Bokk moved to Sweden for competition, or why players like Draisaitl choose to come over to the CHL or USHL. It’s important to keep this in mind especially in a draft year where the players Stützle is being compared to had “worse” on-paper production in tougher leagues.
The elements of his game that need improvement on the ice, such as his play away from the puck and noting when to take his chances, are normal development considerations for a top-level offensive player his age. Here, the fact he’s been playing older, stronger opponents work in his favour, as for the most part, Stützle’s been observing pro habits and likely knows what he needs to work on as he begins to think about North America.
Defensively, while he doesn’t always get the positioning right, he appears to engage the opposing puck carriers at a high-rate and definitely shows the effort that you would want to see in a young player away from the puck. He also doesn’t appear to be a liability when defending in transition, as he can show good awareness to cover for his teammates while focusing on making the positive play for his team to maintain possession of the puck.
Some scouting reports I read worried about the fact that he might be too rush-reliant and could potentially get snuffed out in the offensive zone as compared to his peers, like Alexander Holtz or Cole Perfetti, who have a different element of threat. My biggest pondering is how he’ll manage to play his style of game when he doesn’t have the space on North American ice. Does he have the problem solving ability to do what he needs to do in small spaces, like Raymond does?
Part of the problem with showcasing highlights as opposed to a shift-by-shift analysis like I linked earlier, is that I, as an author, can utilize whatever piece of video I want to prove my point. Hence, I’ll try to showcase as many different options as I can to help you, as a reader, reflect on those thoughts yourself.
The clip below demonstrates the added time-and-space that I don’t really see at the NHL or even AHL level:
While Stützle can certainly problem solve on the fly, like he does here, the opposing forwards are likely going to attack him much harder and he might not be able to find the space through the middle in the common 1-2-2 or 1-3-1 neutral zone set-up at the NHL level. I can see plays like this happening more, where Stützle is able to utilize his speed on the zone entry, but gets quickly pushed off to the perimeter.
To succeed, Stützle is going to have to attack the middle of the ice, like he does here, or be able to quickly distribute on the entry and chase opposing players with his speed on the puck retrieval. This is probably why his performance at the World Juniors elevated his stock so much relative to other players, because he was able to still look like a bonafide player as an underager, on a smaller ice surface.
The Fit with Ottawa
What the Ottawa Senators need the most in the 2020 NHL Draft is elite, first-line talent. Tim Stützle certainly has it in spades.
While he mainly played wing for Mannheim and with Germany this season, Stützle played centre in junior and many feel like his vision and strong skating ability make him better suited as a pivot in the NHL. He’s certainly a different type of centre than the others we’ll profile — like Quinton Byfield and Marco Rossi — but he’s strong on his feet, can separate from opposing players, and can compete in all areas of the ice.
That Ottawa has the chance to draft two top-five talents this year means that they could easily take a more natural fit at centre with Byfield or Rossi, and keep Stützle as the left-winger on the line that isn’t Brady Tkachuk’s. If you’re looking to blend lines with different tools, Stützle’s vision and creativity is most like Drake Batherson’s in the Sens’ system, and while you could have both on the same line, there’s an argument to split them to divvy up the team’s primary playmakers.
The Senators drafted a European-born player in the first-round last year, but Lassi Thomson played junior in Kelowna. If you don’t count second-round picks in Jonathan Dahlen and Andreas Englund, the last time Ottawa drafted out of Europe with a high pick was when they selected Mika Zibanejad sixth overall out of Djurgårdens in 2011. Pierre Dorion has made a number of trips over to Europe himself — including one after the World Juniors — to watch this year’s top European prospects live, and the team has Mikko Ruutu, Petr Havluj, and Anders Östberg as European-based scouts. Let’s see if they swing for the stars.
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“Stützle’s game revolves around his ability to do everything extremely quickly. His hands and feet are both very quick but his brain might be even quicker because he seems to be able to make great decisions no matter the situation and how much pressure he’s getting from opposing players. His hands are very close to Raymond’s level, and one could argue his skating is the best among this group. Stützle is exciting and flashy, and he’ll be a fan favorite wherever he goes. Even though he’s been used at wing in DEL and for the most part at the World Juniors as well, he has the tools to move back to center at some point in the future but it’s not a sure thing by any means.”
— Jokke Nevalainen, Dobber Prospects
“[Stützle’s] a crazy player,” Peterka said. “Crazy vision and crazy playmaker. I’m really happy to play with him. I just go to the net and play simple. We don’t play the same but we play perfect together. It just works.”
— John-Jason Peterka via The Athletic ($)
“Stützle is perhaps my favourite prospect in the class. A dangerous playmaker who is always a threat in his zone, he’s been a star in the DEL this season. Stützle is a patient, calculated distributor who can either play the half-walls, the slot or run the point, he’s not limited to any one zone in which he can be dangerous. Can make all the passes an elite centre should. He has craftsman-like hands that allows him to get shots off quickly from a multitude of angles and spots on the ice. Fantastic skater also, a joy to watch.”
— Ashley Glover
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