Tim Stuetzle is not yet back to full strength, but he says he is 100 per cent ready to represent Germany in the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships in Alberta.
Stuetzle, a sparkling forward talent selected third overall by the Ottawa Senators in October, is back skating with his Mannheim Eagles teammates this week after recovering from a broken hand suffered in a team practice one week after he was drafted. Stuetzle had surgery on the hand Oct. 15.
“There’s no way that I won’t play the world juniors,” Stuetzle said by telephone from Mannheim on Thursday. “Hopefully I am back to 100 per cent in one or two weeks.”
The 18-year-old Stuetzle skated with the full team for the first time on Monday. Prior to that, he was skating on his own for about a week and a half. He is shooting and stickhandling without discomfort, he says. Following a medical checkup Thursday, he has been cleared for contact.
That capped off a very good week for a prospect on the mend.
“I just love to be back with the boys again,” Stuetzle said. “We’re having fun. I can’t wait to play my first game of the season, I can’t wait for the world juniors.”
Stuetzle is scheduled to have one final practice with Mannheim Friday before leaving on Sunday for Germany’s six-day world junior camp in Fussen, near Munich. The team is expected to fly to Edmonton on Dec. 13th.
“I'm not at 100 per cent with my hand yet, but I’m shooting already and that is going very good,” Stuetzle said. “I just started last week getting into battle drills and things like that. It’s coming. It’s getting better day by day.
“Stickhandling was awkward at first, but it’s getting there. I feel very good on the ice.”
The prognosis for recovery after his surgery was six to eight weeks. According to Stuetzle, he is slightly ahead of schedule.
Mannheim general manager Jan-Axel Alavaara says that Stuetzle is improving daily and should be good to go for the world juniors.
“He’s made good progress,” Alavaara said. “Whether he’s going to be 100 per cent at the tournament, that’s impossible for me to say.
“He looks fine at practice, but on the other hand you need to be able to battle, you have to be strong on the stick and that is coming -- I believe he will be ready for the tournament.
That’s my personal opinion from what I’ve seen on the ice.”
With five points, all assists, in last year’s world junior tournament, Stuetzle is expected to provide leadership and experience on a young German squad. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he is named captain.
“It would be a big honour to be captain, but we have other guys, too,” Stuetzle says. “I try to be a leader all the time.
“I’m just looking forward to meeting all the guys again. I think we have a very strong team and a very young team. I think as an underdog we can show well and it will be a good tournament for us.”
In an odd way, the hand injury might have helped Stuetzle’s development. He worked on his off-ice strength and conditioning and was able to skate not long after surgery, even if it took time to regain the strength for stickhandling.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, he has spent most of the past several months either at his apartment or the hockey rink. He avoided trips to town, so he wouldn’t mix with crowds. For fun, he has dabbled in video games and is finishing up two online courses to complete his schooling.
“For sure, it's not nice to be injured, but I think it helped me a lot,” he says. “I feel stronger than before. I had a really good rehab team. We have great facilities in Mannheim and I had treatments twice a day.
“We didn’t rush anything, but I am already ahead of what we expected for me to be healthy.
“I’m just thankful for all the guys who helped me along the way. And watching the team win a few pre-season games was nice but It would be much better to be in the lineup and play some games.”
There is nothing new regarding an NHL contract for Stuetzle. Both sides are waiting for the NHL to sort out an agreement with its players and then a reduced schedule of games. If and when that gets done, Stuetzle is expected to sign with Ottawa and join the Senators for training camp.
“I don’t want to say anything about it, just that I want to play there next season,” Stuetzle says. “That is my goal for sure. We’ll see what happens after the world juniors, but I can’t wait to get started there (in Ottawa).”
Alavaara concurs that a contract will get done in due time.
“Everyone is speculating on the NHL season at this point,” Alavaara says. “When we know how it’s going to be we will sit down together and talk.”
There is excellent communication between the Senators and Mannheim Eagles. They have been in regular contact with Stuetzle, including updates on his health and rehab. Ottawa would need a release from Mannheim for Stuetzle to leave the German league and join the Senators, but that will be worked out, assuming the NHL can get its business in order.
According to Alavaara, Senators fans are going to be in for a treat with Stuetzle -- the player and the person. Stuetzle’s english is excellent and he exudes personality, even over a telephone line.
“Ah, he’s a great kid. A great kid,” Alavaara says. You will have a lot of fun with him in Ottawa over the coming years.”
The GM says he considers Stuetzle “tops in everything” he does.
“His passion -- he loves the game,” Alavaara says. “He knows he needs to work hard to become the best possible hockey player and he is doing that on a daily basis.”
While Alavaara believes Stuetzle has the physical strength to play against the big players in the NHL, there will be an adjustment to the smaller ice and robust style of play.
“He has to be able to protect himself,” Alavaara says.
It will help that Stuetzle has played against men in the DEL, producing 34 points in 41 games for Mannheim in 2019-20.
“Playing against me is always the better development path,” says Alavaara, who spent two years in Sweden as a Buffalo Sabres scout.
Stuetzle will likely line up at centre for Germany, but says he will play wherever he is asked. He will have to show his hand can handle the wear and tear of faceoffs.
“We’ll see how my hand feels,” he says. “In practice it feels great, but to play a game is one hundred per cent different.
“There are game situations you have to get used to. So, we’ll see how my hand feels in a game. But I’m looking forward to playing my first game. It’s been a long pre-season!”