Deep Dive: A Look Into Tim Stützle’s Game
The prospect pipeline from Deutschland is starting to heat up.
The nation known for manufacturing has started to become a reliable source of manufacturing high-end NHL prospects. What started as a bit of an outlier with Leon Draisaitl, the German Gretzky, in the 2014 Draft has begun to show promise as a rising hockey nation. Moritz Seider and Dominik Bokk are two high-end team-owned prospects in hockey and this year’s draft has the potential to have up to three German players drafted in the first round. Leading that charge at the 2020 NHL Draft is center Tim Stützle.
Starting the year as a prospect who intrigued scouts and analysts, Stützle has seemingly solidified his spot among the top-five players available, whenever the draft happens this season. His rise in the draft community began when he made his debut with Adler Mannheim and the rest of the hockey world witnessed the skill, speed, and sizzle that comes with Stützle’s game.
Playing on a professional team in the DEL, the German professional men’s league, Stützle put together one of the most impressive seasons in DEL history for an under-18 player. His raw point total of 34 points in 41 games was third-most for U18 players in DEL history and his .83 points-per-game is well ahead of any other U18 player in DEL history with Marcel Goc sitting second at .71 points-per-game. It’s fair to say that Stützle may be the best draft-eligible player in DEL history and the argument can be made that he could be the best German draft prospect of all time as well.
Stützle’s draft season was impressive, to say the least. How the young forward went from preseason unknown to a coveted draft asset is a story best told through video and analysis because the history of prospects from the DEL is short.
When Stützle is on the ice, he immediately stands out because of how electrifying he is as a skater. He possesses the raw speed to beat opponents, even in the DEL against men and a number of former NHL players.
This raw speed is an impressive tool, to say the least, but there are plenty of fast players who remain ineffective despite their speed because they do not have the ability to utilize their speed with effective edge work and agility. These are attributes that Stützle is not only capable of utilizing but he excels at them.
Stützle’s skating is among the best in the draft class without question. He is able to accelerate on a moment’s notice, beat his opposition in a foot race with his top-end speed and then evade defenders with his agility and edgework.
Above we can see Stützle embarrass a defender with an absolutely filthy spin-move and then immediately attack the net. He identifies his open teammate and feeds the puck to him. Although the shot doesn’t beat the netminder, he does a good job of generating a scoring chance from a high-danger area of the ice.
Known more as a playmaker than a goal scorer, Stützle doesn’t get credit for how good he is as a goal scorer. He has a quick release and pinpoint accuracy which allows him to pick corners. His shot doesn’t have the same kind of pop that a prospect such as Alexander Holtz or Quinton Byfield has but Stützle’s ability to locate his shots and his penchant for getting himself into the high-danger areas of the offensive zone allow for his shot to show better than it is as a raw tool.
While his shot will likely improve as he gets a bit stronger, he has shown the ability to score against men in both the DEL and Champions Hockey League. In the following clip, Stützle can be seen winding up as he moves high in the zone on the powerplay and curls towards the high slot as he gets above the circles. He receives the pass and identifies open space down the slot. He attacks the vacant area of the ice before altering his angle ever so slightly with a lean to the outside and then fires the puck short side, popping the goalie’s bottle in the process.
As an offensive catalyst, Stützle is able to utilize his skating to create space and identify the open man. He is a highly creative player, taking advantage of whatever the opposition is willing to give him. He takes unique lines through the offensive zone and doesn’t hesitate to freelance a bit while allowing his teammates to find their space as Stützle carries the puck.
The young star from Deutschland has the confidence of a 10-year veteran with the youthful brashness of the 17-year-old offensive force that he is. There is a balance between confidence and arrogance. Stützle walks that line quite well as he does an excellent job of protecting the puck and limiting mistakes and careless play.
The patience that Stützle routinely exhibits with the puck on his stick is impressive. Despite being a player who pushes the pace and wants to play the game at a high speed, Stützle has no issue with holding onto the puck for long periods of time and waiting for an opening that the defense presents to him.
In the next clip, we get an excellent look at Stützle circle the offensive zone while protecting the puck. We see him with his head on a swivel, constantly looking to his teammates for a passing option. As he skates through the top of the zone, he sees a defensive player slightly fade towards the middle of the slot and uses him as a pick to disrupt the player that is trailing him. This opens up space for Stützle to head towards the net. He pulls the puck to the outside and then his quick release and precise accuracy beat the netminder with ease.
The most common theme in Stützle’s game is attacking the slot. He plays with a predatory instinct when he is in the offensive zone. This persistence when it comes to quickly occupy real estate in the high danger areas aids in his playmaking just as much as his ability to put the puck in the net. His high-end puck handling ability is key to this style of play because it often puts Stützle in high-traffic situations and the young German has the hands to get out of them.
He has the ability to infiltrate the net front and slot area, drawing defenders in towards him before identifying the open man and getting the puck to him. In the next clip, we see Stützle put his playmaking on display while skating into the slot. He goes outside then inside on two defenders before passing the puck against the grain. The puck is stopped and then sent wide but Stützle continues skating and recovers the loose puck before leaving for a teammate on the half-wall and then retreating to his area on the power play.
This type of aggressive and attacking style of play in the offensive zone is what separates Stützle from other prospects in this draft. A player attacking the net generally draws attention and a player with a penchant for doing so can draw defenders all over the ice.
Stützle is fairly consistent at drawing extra defenders and his constant movement throughout the offensive zone makes it difficult for defenses to not fall out of position. He often draws low defenders high and high defenders low in the offensive zone creating quite a bit of havoc. The next clip is an example of Stützle drawing defenders high in the offensive zone before feeding a streaking John Jason Peterka for a goal that the defense is in no position to defend.
This type of play may not be the flashiest of assists and the bulk of the glory goes to Peterka for the way he was able to finish the play and beat the netminder but Stützle’s small pass as he’s going one way and Peterka flies by in the other direction is much more difficult than it looks. It requires a high level of finesse and soft touch, both of which Stützle regularly displays in his game.
Now we take a look at how Stützle attacking the slow and drawing defenders low in the zone can aid his team’s offensive output. In our next piece of video, Stützle goes from zero to a hundred, jetting towards the area between the circles. As the defense collapses in on him, he lays a soft pass off to his defenseman at the blue line who fires the puck through the hectic traffic in front of the netminder, caused by Stützle’s skating path, finding the back of the net.
The finesse and soft touch of Stützle is paired with crisp and precise long-distance passing that requires a bit more power behind his passes. The young German excels in making these types of plays as well. The one thing that stays constant in his game is that he is most effective when on the move. His constant movement allows for incremental angle changes that goalies and defenders have to take into account when trying to stop him.
One of the best examples of this came on the biggest stage, the World Junior Championships. The assist below to Peterka became an instant viral clip because of both Stützle’s pass and Peterka’s finish as they took an early lead against the heavily favored American squad. Despite the U.S. squad pulling out the win, the German team led by Stützle showed that the pre-tournament juggernaut wasn’t as scary as they seemed.
On the play, Stützle gets the puck high in the zone before heading from the top of the faceoff circle to the bottom. He waits for the American defender to attempt a poke check before feeding the puck through the area vacated by the U.S. rearguard’s stick. Peterka makes no mistake and Stützle puts his name on the map, beginning the rise in his stock amongst many scouts and media.
Stützle is a playmaker who can threaten a defense as a goal-scoring option instantly makes himself a more dangerous playmaker. Defenses have to stay honest and not give the Stützle time and space because if they do, he can burn them by scoring a goal himself.
Opponents rarely make the mistake of leaving the next great German alone, but when they do, Stützle makes them pay as he does in the next video. Stützle settles into a soft spot in the defense on the backside of the net. While his Mannheim teammates battle behind the net, Stützle adjusts his position ever so slightly to help open a passing lane. Former NHLer Ben Smith finds his young teammates and with time and space, Stützle one-times the puck and makes no mistake.
It’s evident that Stützle is an offensive catalyst and that his play from the neutral zone to the offensive zone are among the best in this draft class. What many young players have issues with is the defensive end of the ice and finding the right balance between offense and defense. Stützle’s balance is being high-level on both ends of the ice.
The defensive side of his game doesn’t get talked about nearly enough because defensive highlights are far from as fun as many of the goals and assists that the German highlight reel has given the hockey world this year alone. The small things about Stützle’s game are what make the difference between being a top-15 prospect and a top-5 prospect. Whether it be utilizing his speed on the forecheck or having a willingness to battle along the boards and fish out pucks before starting a quick transition, Stützle is not only capable of aiding his team defensively but he embraces it.
Understanding that speed is one of his greatest tools, Stützle uses it on the forecheck. He doesn’t lay the body or impose his will physically because that isn’t a major part of his game. Rather he applies pressure on opposing players in their own end and forces mistakes with his persistence. He often forces opponents to make mistakes, bobble the puck or rush their next move because he is on them so quickly.
Below we see Stützle get in on the forecheck immediately when the opposing team gains possession of the puck. He tracks the puck carrier up the wall and then turns back as the puck is forced back to another defender. The puck is then moved towards the slot to an open player for the opposition who begins to break the puck out of his zone. Stützle closes the gap before center ice leading to an errant pass towards Stützle’s defensive blue line. The puck is battled for at the blue line, just inside of the Mannheim zone and who else but Stützle comes up with the loose puck, feeding it cross-ice to safety, preventing any offensive chance for his opposition.
This is the effort output that many scouts and analysts have become accustomed to when watching Stützle play. He has a consistent motor regardless of which area of the ice he is playing in from below his own goal line to below to oppositions. Stützle is a truly efficient 200-foot player.
His defensive positioning is generally quite strong in his own end thanks to years of playing center prior to this year on the wing. He certainly has the defensive acumen to be a long-term center and his move to the wing was likely derived from being a 17-year-old player on a men’s league team in his native Germany.
In the following video, we can see the defensive tendencies of a center in Stützle as he is the first forward back and ends up being the player that breaks up the clean zone entry. His good stick check disrupts his opponent upon entry. This leads to a loose puck which Stützle can not corral in his feet. The opposing team regains possession and Stützle tracks the puck from low to high, staying in the shooting lane as the puck is worked around the zone. He then skates to the slot, above his defender as a center generally would, to ensure that the passing lane is closed off before vacating back towards the defenseman at the point by the time his Mannheim teammates start the breakout.
Turning defense into offense is a trait that defensemen or high-level defensive centers generally have, and Stützle exhibits it to a tee. As soon as the puck is on his stick he is looking to either skate it out of the zone or push the puck up to a teammate in good position to begin the breakout. When the puck isn’t on his stick he is either opening himself up to provide his teammates and outlet or being relentless on the opposition to get the puck back for his team.
This is another example of how a high-IQ player operates. The best way to play defense is to do it for as little time as possible and Stützle follows those beliefs. He often doesn’t spend a great deal of time in his own end, pushing the puck up ice as soon as possible.
In the final clip of our examination of Stützle’s game, we get a look at the young German turning his commitment to good defensive play into a solid offensive chance at the other end of the ice. Stützle does an excellent job of keeping his head on a swivel and staying aware of what is going on around him. He sees the opportunity to join the scrum in the corner and comes away with the puck fairly quickly. Immediately turning up ice, Stützle makes a crisp pass to a high forward and the breakout commences. As the puck is brought across the offensive blue line, Stützle collects a drop pass and cuts to the middle of the ice, towards the netminder. His chance is thwarted but he remains engaged on the puck.
Coming into the year the question around Stützle was always what can this player be at the pro level and he did everything and more to answer that this season. The DEL is a league that the scouting world is still trying to get a handle on and the recent success of Stützle along with the likes of Peterka, Lukas Reichel, and Seider has given the league a bit more credibility when it comes to developing prospects.
The rise of Stützle was predicted by some at the beginning of the season. A small number of scouts and analysts had the opinion that at his best, Stützle would be a top-five prospect by seasons end and they seem to have been proven correct. Stützle seems destined to be selected within the top-five at this point and could go as high as number two. Profiling as a center long-term will do nothing but aid him when it comes to the draft as well. He has proved throughout the year that player center is not only an option long-term but he should be able to excel at the center ice position.
Stützle’s game is based on his speed and predatory instincts as an offensive player. He is a constant threat to attack the middle of the ice in the offensive zone and his dual-threat ability as a passer and shooter makes him exceptional dangerous regardless of what the defense gives him. His playmaking is decisive and creative, born out of his constant movement and ability to read the ice like few other players. His goal-scoring comes from a willingness to get to the dirty areas and a quick release that with a bit more development, could be well above average at the NHL level.
Rarely does Stützle get credit for his complete game, especially defensively. He utilizes his speed and smarts on the defensive end of the ice, applying pressure and forcing mistakes from the opposition. He plays a high-paced game and wants to push the play up ice at all times. The combination of his high-IQ and high-end skillset allows for him to control the ice in a way that many young players struggle to do and for the majority of the year, save for the World Junior Championship, he did it against men. Any questions we had about Stützle have been answered.