Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #2: Tim Stützle

The süperstar C moves up a spot to nab the silver medal.

#2: Tim Stutzle (Last Year: #3, Reader Rank: #2)

At any given moment, no matter what team you cheer for, there’s (almost) always something to look forward to in the NHL. If your team is good, there’s a chance to watch your favorite players lift the Stanley Cup. And if they suck, there’s a chance of landing a potential franchise player at the NHL Entry Draft.

The 2020 Draft Lottery was virtually a slap in the face to the teams in the latter group. The first-overall pick would be awarded as a consolation prize to a team that still had meaningful hockey to play, and a chance to win the Cup.

As Sens fans, however, having both the third-and-fifth-overall picks in one of the most stacked drafts in years was likely going to lead to a result with which we could be content. Not even two years later, I’m no longer merely “content”; I’m ecstatic that the selection made by general manager Pierre Dorion, with the help of the late Alex Trebek, was the third overall pick.

Today, I can’t imagine a world in which Tim Stützle is not an Ottawa Senator.

With two full seasons under his belt, the German-born center-turned-winger-turned-center is quickly developing into one of the most dynamic players to ever wear a Senators jersey, and a fan favourite both on and off the ice. He possesses all of the makings of a high-end two-way playmaker, with a penchant for moving the puck out of his own zone and into his opponent’s with ease. He’s a one-man breakout at times.

In 79 games in the 2021-22 season, Stützle notched 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points, good for second on the team behind captain Brady Tkachuk. He was also Ottawa’s most effective player on the power-play, leading the club with 26 points.

Notably, the bulk of his production came later in the year, as he went scoreless in his first 13 games, and only had one goal and seven assists in his first 21. Just look at the enthusiasm in his body language upon getting his first of the season:

Simple arithmetic tells us that in his final 58 games, Stützle put up 21 goals and 29 assists, and for a young player, it could be a sign that his game was transforming over the course of the season. However, I’d attribute at least some of the change in production to luck, i.e. he was extremely unlucky early on, whereas his fortune significantly improved as the season went on.

That being said, Stützle did undergo a significant change during the season, as he was pressed into duty as a centre when both Colin White and Shane Pinto went down with injuries. With the already rapid defensive improvements in his game, Stützle took very well to the new role.

According to NaturalStatTrick, Stützle’s 5-on-5 expected goals against per 60 minutes ranked second-last on the team during his rookie season and was better than just 33 forward leaguewide. In his sophomore year, he improved to a rank of 309th out of 477 forwards with at least 200 minutes in the NHL, and 9th out of 15 Senators forwards. Not a stalwart, but by no means a liability either and a major step forward.

Where he stood out from the pack was in his transitional play, most notably through generating controlled zone entries. One of the most impactful skills a player can have is the ability to consistently move the puck into the zone and maximize opportunities for scoring chances for you and your teammates, and Stützle has this ability in spades. Note the blue bar in the chart below, next to “Controlled Entry%”. The number you see, 2.24, is called the z-score, which is dependent on the difference between the player’s rate, and the league average. A positive z-score is good, and the varying color and length of the bars tell us that 2.24 is a fantastic value compared to some of the others here.

That’s some impressive company he’s keeping. To go with these numbers, here’s a look at how Stützle successfully exits and enters the zone.

One aspect in which his work ethic, edgework, and transitional ability come into play is through the drawing of penalties. In 2021-22, he drew 1.97 penalties per 60 minutes of 5v5 play, ranking 21st out of that 477-player group I mentioned earlier, in other words, the 96th percentile.

This of course led to Stützle becoming a magnet for egregiously misinformed criticism from panelists (on Sportsnet!) and complaints from players (particularly ones who scored seven goals last season), accusing him of being a diver. He did get called for embellishment, like once, early in the year, but there was nothing pointing to him being a routine pratfall artist. What opposing fans are actually mad about is a combination of their defenders not being good enough to hang with him.

Those who are skeptical he’ll live up to his recently-signed eight-year contract extension (beginning in 2023-24) worth $8.35M/season will point to his relatively poor 5-on-5 production this past season — at 1.37 points per 60, he ranked in the 35th percentile among forwards, but I have a suspicion this number will shoot upwards in 2022-23. Reasons for this include:

  • being a 20-year-old player who will naturally continue to improve over the next 3-4 years
  • having the opportunity to play on a line with two-time 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat/

Also — and this is kind of a big one — his 5-on-5 points per 60 from his rookie campaign was 1.84, good for the 70th percentile among 429 players from the 2020-21 season. There’s already evidence he can produce at a higher rate than we’ve seen this past year, and that was back when he was much weaker defensively and in transition. Remember, Stützle is only twenty years old; there is real room for improvement.

This time last year, we knew Stützle would be a special player. However, there was uncertainty about the quality of the team around him. Would they attempt to solely rely on drafting to add complementary players, or would they go out and acquire high-end established NHLers? We now have our answer. Stützle will begin the year on a line with DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. That’s the kind of line you know will be incredible, not just one you hold out hope for.

Seriously, can you read that last sentence again and tell me this team isn’t going to be good in 2022-23? In the words of the greatest player in franchise history, “Probably not”.

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