After a career year that saw Tim Stützle hit highs in goals and points, his development appears to be right on track. With other members of the core group taking steps forward, the Ottawa Senators should be more competitive this coming season. As the players around him get better and his own development pushes forward, what can fans and the team expect from Stützle?
With a rookie season that saw Stützle hit 29 points in 53 games, it was easy to wonder what his development trajectory looked like. Though he showed incredibly exciting flashes of brilliance, this point total was less than ideal. While it could be said that part of this stems from limited deployment, nearly a third of his points came on the power play. Shifting gears this past season, he was able to increase his share of overall ice time and continued to feast on power play minutes, allowing him to get up to 58 points in 79 games. Along with increases in ice time, points, and highlight reel moments, Stützle also found himself shouldering additional responsibility.
Stützle’s Shift to Center
Easily the biggest shift this season was the movement from wing to center. In his rookie year, Stützle took just 27 faceoffs. This past season saw him in the dot 473 times. While he saw an improvement in winning percentage, his 38 percent win rate still leaves room for improvement. With that said, he’s still playing relatively sheltered shifts, matching up almost exclusively in the offensive zone. For the team to continue improving, the Senators will either need to develop more of a two-way game with Stützle or fill in their roster with higher-quality defensive centers for the third and fourth lines. Connor Brown has been the standout in that role, but he looks to be potentially on the block, according to reports by insider Elliotte Friedman.
Moving into next season, Stützle will need to continue refining his game. Despite his high-quality skill set, make no mistake that he’s competing with Josh Norris for the first-line center role. Stützle will have to get better at winning faceoffs in the offensive zone to allow for more pressure and puck cycling. His work in between blue lines has been good, but he’ll need to step up to the next level to avoid losing the puck in a neutral zone turnover. Fans can expect that coach DJ Smith will give Stützle an opportunity early in the season, but if things don’t improve, he’ll likely find himself centering the second line instead of back on the wing.
Changes to Stützle’s Physicality
This needs to start with a very clear statement. Stützle is not a diver. However, he does tend to go down fairly easily when contact is made with him. When looking through the highlights, it’s clear that he needs to work on his stability when driving with the puck. With that said, despite what noted pest Brendan Gallagher might believe, Stützle is not throwing himself to the ice at every chance he gets. With his game being very perimeter-oriented right now, this is a critical offseason for his development. He needs to pack on some more mass this summer and work on his ability to stay on his feet.
With the idea of him being a diver now firmly implanted in the eyes and ears of fans, opposing teams, and possibly even officials, it’s likely that, at some point, the drawn penalties will slow down unless particularly egregious. To find continued success, Stützle will need to advance further into the slot, and to do so, he’ll have to be much more balanced and able to shrug off contact. While he needed to spend some time recovering from a knee injury sustained playing for the German national team, there’s lots of time for workouts before the first puck drop. Hopefully the team will see a stronger, more confident Stützle driving head first into the high-danger areas of the ice this upcoming season.
Stützle Needs To Trust His Teammates
Understandably, this is a contentious point. But the reality is that Stützle can tend towards being selfish at times with the puck. His skill is tremendous and undeniable, but he needs to be willing to trust his teammates. From the defensive zone, his outlet passes are beautiful when they happen. On zone entries, however, he runs into some trouble. With some exceptions, his zone entry plan generally consists of two options. He’ll overcommit to make a move on a defender that either works and everyone witnesses a highlight reel moment, or he’ll stop up and send the puck to an incoming defenseman.
In the upcoming season, Stützle needs to be more reliant on his teammates. As the coaches’ offices are secretive, it could simply be a systems issue, but the point remains. For further success, there needs to be a bigger attempt at making that first pass, or to dump and chase, as opposed to carrying the puck over the line just to have the play killed. Once the zone has been gained, and Stützle has the puck, he’s a fantastic puck mover. It’s the transitional play where he needs to be a little more willing to offload the puck to allow himself to get to an open position to make the next play.
Stützle has a high ceiling. He has the complete tool kit to be at least an 80-point player in the league. Some could argue that he has the raw skills to break 100, and even soon if he has the necessary supporting cast. After hitting 58 points in 79 games last season, a conservative estimate would be around 75 points this season. If you’re the Senators’ front office, you’re going to hope for at least 82 so he hits the point per game mark. Should the team make the right moves this offseason to get a solid winger who compliments him, Stützle could easily hit that mark. If the team hopes to make the playoffs, it’s a necessity that he sees improvement.
Devin resides in Ontario, covering the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. He’s interested in where the eye test intersects with advanced stats and is on a quest to make a formula to determine who really is the best overall defenseman.