This time last year, Tim Stutzle was a few months removed from an unusual rookie season. Due to COVID, the 2020-21 NHL season was a shorty, running 56 games from January to May. Stutzle put up good numbers, finishing third in rookie scoring with 29 points in 53 games. He did so while playing on the wing all season – a less preferred position – and was given that role again at the start of 2021-22.
The plan was to let the kid get a feel for the NHL before heaping on the extra responsibilities that come with playing centre.
But plans can change quickly in the NHL.
Sttuzle was slow out of the gate with just 1 goal in his first 16 games. The Sens also had some early injuries to centers Shane Pinto and Colin White, which led to fans getting louder about the idea of head coach D.J. Smith moving Stutzle to centre. But Stutzle was actually the one who suggested a few weeks earlier he might be better off on the wing.
“We actually talked about it right from the start of the season,” Stutzle told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen
at last week’s NHL European Player Media Tour. “D.J. asked me, ‘What do you want, do you want to play center or wing?’ I said, ‘Maybe I would be more comfortable playing with two really good players and getting to learn from a guy who was playing center.’ Then we had so many injuries so I had to play center. He asked me, ‘Can you play center now?’ Of course. I said, ‘I’m ready for it.’”
Stutzle closed the season with 35 points in his last 35 games, galvanizing everyone’s belief that the highly skilled German was going to be a star in the league.
Stutzle now has the comfort of knowing he’s going to be a full-time centre from day one this season and says he loves it. He’s also another year older, with another full summer of training to try and get bigger and stronger. Based on video he just posted on Instagram this week, he’s succeeding.
There would still be excitement swirling around the 20 year old, even if the Sens had made no moves at all this summer. Oh, but the team did make moves – big ones – including new all-star linemates for Stutzle. With all due respect to Alex Formenton and Connor Brown, who are both very good players, they aren’t quite at the offensive level of Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, both acquired by the Senators in the off-season.
It’s hard to imagine any center in the league got a bigger linemate upgrade than Stutzle just did.
At 24, DeBrincat isn’t much older than Stutzle but already has two 40 goal seasons in the league. At 34, Giroux is the greybeard of the group, probably hall-of-fame bound, and exactly the kind of veteran mentor the Sens have been looking for – one who’s not only been around but can still play at very high level.
“For sure I was super pumped to see those moves happen,” Stutzle told NHL.com
. “I can’t wait to learn from guys like that. I am still super young and I think I can learn a lot from DeBrincat, Giroux, those guys. It’s going to be a lot of fun playing with them and I can’t wait to get going, see the guys and get to meet them.”
The Senators have missed the playoffs five years in a row now, and despite all the improvements, the conference won’t make it easy to get there this season. All eight playoff teams in the East last season finished with 100 points or more. The Sens had just 73. Other non-playoff teams like the Islanders, Sabres and Red Wings are also threats to compete.
The day he arrived in town, head coach D.J. Smith told me, “It may take some time, but we’ll get ‘er done.”
If the Sens do get it done this season, finally ending that playoff drought, Stutzle will be one of the major reasons why.