Analyzing Tim Stützle’s rookie season and why he’s a star in the making

Tim Stutzle talked about the overall skill level of the player in the NHL compared to playing in Germany, and how he is improving his defensive play.

I’ll start with the conclusion of this post, because I think it’s important all the positives and the negatives of The Tim Stützle Experience be discussed with it in mind: by the numbers his results haven’t been good so far this season, but he just turned 19 and his team is terrible and by the eye you can see that one day soon, those results are going to be very, very good.

He’s a star, but stars aren’t born at peak magnitude.

So to reiterate the conclusion. The numbers are bad. The eye test is good. The former is going to catch up to the latter. But probably not this season.

All that out there now, I recently declared Stützle one of my 10 favourite players in the league to watch, because my god, does he do a few dynamic things every night that make you go “Wow, some of the best players in the league can’t do that.”

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

His vision is unbelievable, the pop in his step is dynamic, and his unpredictability is off the charts. He’s like watching a cat all hepped up on the ‘nip, yet he’s composed enough to mix in little slips under sticks and smart cuts to dangerous areas. I can’t imagine watching him and wondering if he’s ever going to find “it” as an elite offensive player in the league.

This play doesn’t result in much, but it’s a good example of his confidence with the puck, his confidence in traffic, and how dangerous this player is going to be. It’s the shoulders through the neutral zone I like most, giving out bad information to the defenders while leaving both directions as a choice the entire time.

I say the numbers are inevitably going to catch up to his ability, because like many offensively gifted younger, slighter players, he just doesn’t find himself in dangerous spots enough yet. Often that takes a little more brawn, a little more aggressiveness, and a few more tricks to get into those spots. (There are numerous great AHL scorers who can’t get to the same spots at the top level to do the scoring they’d be able to do if they could. Stützle will be able to get there more soon.)

When he does get into those spots, though, man can he put it away. Most players thrive shooting with their stick to the middle of the ice, but check out Stützle so far this season. As a lefty with his stick to the outside, he’s still able to make goaltenders look foolish.

He’s a dynamic star in the making, but let’s get to those results I mentioned off the top.

No player on the Ottawa Senators has a more favourable zone start percentage. That means when the Sens throw Stützle over the boards after a whistle, some 70 per cent of the time it’s for a faceoff in the offensive end (less than 16 per cent of the draws he’s on the ice for originate in the D-zone). On average only a player or two per team gets starts that generous.

Quality of Competition is mostly out of a team’s hands on the road, but at home they have some control over who players go up against, so it’s at least somewhat at a coach’s discretion. At 5-on-5 Stützle faces the eighth-hardest opposition among Senators forwards, which is roughly what a third liner would face.

This is one of those cases where I feel it justified to use the word “sheltered” about an offensive player — he’s just a kid starting out in the NHL in a weird, condensed-schedule pandemic year, and they want to put him in a position to succeed. With that opportunity, by the boxcar stats, he’s more or less done that. Through 16 games he has five goals (the team lead is six) and nine points (team lead is 11). Nine points is tied for 127th in the league, but on the Sens, it ain’t bad.

But those are about as shiny as the numbers could look given everything underlying. When he’s been on the ice, only 45 per cent of unblocked shot attempts have gone the Sens’ way, which is the worst number by players who still play on the team (Cedric Paquette’s was lower). A lower number of actual shots (by percentage) have gone the Sens’ way, with only Stützle and Artem Anisimov sitting below 45 per cent. (Anisimov is actually below 40 per cent, which is what the most informed analysts call “bad.”)

And it’s even worse by actual even-strength goals. Say what you will about noisy-ol’ plus-minus, but at some point it says something.

(Nick Paul sure has been good, hasn’t he? Aside from just that one stat, I mean.)

Stützle’s expected goal percentage is only better than Chris Tierney’s. Honestly pick an even-strength metric, Stützle’s struggling in favourable spots. You get the point.

But there’s good news. There are times, like this, where you can see a talented young player is just that. Talented as hell and going to be a star, but young and probably taking on too much on a bad team.

Using Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz, here’s Stützle’s season so far in terms of contribution at the offensive and defensive ends.

As mentioned, he’s posting poor expected goal contributions at both ends.

Here’s the good news.

What I see in frame one is a pattern you can find in other stars finding their way. Let’s use Jack Eichel as the example here. Watch his career progression at both ends of the rink below. It’s wild how perfectly linear it is — the offensive expected goals contributions go up, the expected goals against go down.

Even then, in that first year, you could tell Eichel was a star in the making. He just wasn’t ready to be a franchise-driving star that first year.

Which loops us back around to the conclusion about Stützle, and how the Sens may have some great young talent right now, but we get blinded by the exceptions and forget that most players take time.

Stützle’s electric, dynamic package has star written all over it. But that star status is still just a blossom, and may take a little while yet to bear fruit.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.