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For today's entry, we have:
#1: Tim Stützle (Reader Rank: 1, Last Year: 2)
Although Brady Tkachuk is the heart and soul and captain of the Ottawa Senators, there's a strong case to be made that the team is only going to go as far as Tim Stützle can take them. Last season he established himself as the clear best player on the team, and is already one of the most talented players in franchise history. We have a special player on our hands, and his bargain of an eight-year contract ($8.35M AAV) is just kicking in now as he begins his age-21 season.
Ranking Stützle first shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, as he has vastly improved in back-to-back seasons – especially this past one where he went from 58 points to 90. Even in his rookie season where he put up 29 points in 53 games as an 18 year-old (a 45-point pace), you could tell he was going to be special and someone to build the team around. Ever since he permanently switched from left wing to centre part way through the 2021-22 season, he's been a completely different player, one who has the potential to be a top-10 or even top-5 centre in the NHL.
In The Athletic's most recent top 125 skater rankings, Stützle was placed in the "3A" category, alongside Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin, William Nylander, Johnny Gaudreau, Jaccob Slavin, Devon Toews, Hampus Lindholm, and Tage Thompson. That puts him in the 30-38th range of overall skaters, and the 14-15 range amongst centres. That's already impressive considering that one NHL coach said, "I think Stützle is gonna be a stud...I don’t think he’s up there yet. I love him, but he hasn’t proven it yet.” It really does seem like he has another gear to his game, and that will probably include some better defensive results as well. If he does that, I don't see why he can't be in the same category as other centres like Aleksander Barkov, Sebastian Aho, Sidney Crosby, Jack Eichel, Brayden Point, and Elias Pettersson.
It's pretty cool to see him get so much national attention already, because as Senators fans we know all too well when a player on the team doesn't get the proper recognition. However, everyone is well aware of the German phenom, and I love that aspect of his ascent. He oozes skill during every single shift, and the only other player that I can remember having as much swagger in Ottawa was Erik Karlsson. Just look at these highlights and tell me you don't want to keep it on a loop:
Stützle also excels at drawing penalties, as he was 11th in the NHL in penalties drawn with 35 (Tkachuk was 5th with 40), which adds a ton of value. He took 27 minor penalties, giving him a +8 value in penalty differential, which was much actually smaller than in 2021-22 when he drew 45 and only took 16 minors, a +29 value. Other fanbases will call him a "diver," but the truth is most of those "dives" were in his first season or two when he was a teenager still gaining his strength, plus he has the puck so often, and when you're skating in and out of people that quickly, it can be easier to fall over. Regardless, his penalty differential is very valuable.
While his on-ice value is incredibly clear, it's also been fun watching him grow as a person and a leader on the Senators. Ian Mendes' recent in-depth article about him just shows how humble he is, and his willingness to not worry about getting as much money as possible will help the team enormously moving forward. This passage is music to my ears:
He knew he could have joined the league’s salaried elite and made north of $10 million with this new contract.“For me, it wasn’t important if I made $9 million or $10 million. Making $8.35 million is still a lot of money,” Stützle says. “I just think it’s a really fair deal for both sides, you know? And that’s what I wanted.”
Stützle says he heard the whispers of people who were critical about his decision.
“People will say, ‘Why did he sign that early?’ But in the end, I think the fans are happy that I’m committed long term,” he says. “And I wanted to show commitment to everybody — the younger guys, too, like Sandy (Jake Sanderson). This group is special. I could have easily signed for three or four years and said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ But I’m just so confident that we’re going to be a good team.”
It's hard not to love his personality and love of life.
Overall, Stützle's ceiling is still yet to be determined. I think he can easily reach the 100-point plateau and even be a top-10 scorer in the league at some point. He's incredibly talented, driven, wants to win, and loves his teammates and the city. It's hard to envision a bigger slam dunk of a 3rd overall pick, and I'm constantly thankful for having Stützle in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.