Just over a year ago the Ottawa Senators had the late Alex Trebek announce their 3rd overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. Tim Stützle’s name was called and the most important draft in the franchise’s history was off to a great start – they got their superstar.
After coming up short in the 2018 and 2019 lotteries, 2020 had a different feel because the Senators had the second and third best odds on lottery night. While some may have been disappointed with the picks falling to #3 and #5, the draft was so deep that it didn’t matter.
Fast forward to the holidays and the World Juniors in Edmonton, where Stützle and Team Germany were looking for a Cinderella type of performance after battling an outbreak of COVID-19. Stützle himself was coming off a wrist injury that he suffered a few weeks after the draft, so it’s fair to say optimism wasn’t very high for what this German team could accomplish.
Stützle absolutely put the team on his back with a performance for the ages, mirroring Thomas Chabot at the 2017 WJC. Stützle left no doubt in the minds of Senators’ fans that he was ready to play in the NHL for the shortened 2021 season:
This was my favourite goal of his. He looked like a man amongst boys out there.
His rookie year went about as expected – there were some flashes of absolute brilliance but there were also some hiccups, mostly on defense. But a lot of people attribute that to his strange off-season and playing 25+ minutes a night for an undermanned Team Germany.
So coming into the 2021-2022 season, it’s safe to say fans are expecting big things from Stützle. While a lot of rookies experience what is referred to as “the sophomore slump,” Stützle should be primed for positive progression this season, since he didn’t necessarily blow anyone’s mind last year.
Make no mistake, cracking an NHL team’s top 6 forward group right when you turn 19 is nothing to scoff at. This kid impressed the hell out of me all year. But what the Senators need, and have lacked up front frankly since Jason Spezza was traded, is a superstar.
If this team wants to have (unparalleled) success, they need a guy in the upper tier of the league when it comes to points; and based on the way they’ve built this team through the rebuild, Stützle is that guy.
The reason I think he needs to take a big step this season is mainly based on what it will do for fan interaction. The other big names on this team have been here for some rough seasons. If Stützle can take a big step the exact season that fans are allowed back in the building, it would almost be too poetic.
The 2020 draft was also pegged as the most important in the rebuild. General Manager Pierre Dorion stocked up on assets for that draft in particular because it was so deep. Stützle has the honour (or burden depending how you look at it) of being the top pick from that draft. It’s to the point where it’s hard to imagine the rebuild being successful if Stützle doesn’t pan out as a star.
As the 2021 pre-season comes to a close, I don’t think we’ve seen Stützle at his best. Word from media members has been that he has been absolutely dominant in practices which is obviously a positive thing. But when the pre-season games rolled around he was trying a bit too much.
Now, it’s the pre-season which is the time to work off the rust. Stützle will undoubtedly find his groove at some point. But fans will want to see some positive steps from him, and certainly while Brady Tkachuk is sidelined with contract negotiations.
With Tkachuk out, Stützle becomes the top Left Winger on the depth chart. He needs to take steps that prove he’s capable of driving a line at this level, and while he’s been a fantastic breath of fresh air for the fan base, there are expectations this season for a team that hasn’t really had any since 2017.
Stützle even said it himself just before training camp:
Anyone who tells you that Matt Murray isn’t the key to this team’s success this season is lying. But right after him, Stützle taking noticeable steps forward might be the next most important.
The Senators need an offensive superstar and Tim Stützle has all the makings to become one. Now is the time to prove it.