Senators’ Tim Stützle Must Break New Ground in 2022-23

After the Alex DeBrincat trade, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion spoke bullishly about the future. He feels that the time to win at Canadian Tire Centre has arrived.

“I said at the end of the season, we want to play meaningful games late [in 2022-23], and I think we’re one step closer to doing that,” the 50-year-old told reporters on the draft floor this summer. “Obviously, the rebuild has been going on, we feel we’re in the next phase now.”

But with all the focus on Ottawa’s big-ticket additions this offseason, the significance of Tim Stützle’s development has slipped under the radar.

Tim Stützle Ottawa Senators
Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The former third-overall pick was a crucial performer for the Senators last season, recording 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 79 appearances. It was his second season in the NHL that saw him build on the 29-point haul (12 goals, 17 assists) in 53 outings he achieved in his rookie campaign.

In addition to his upturn in offensive production, last season also brought about a change of position and role for the German. Stützle was shifted to centre and handed penalty-killing responsibilities by head coach D.J. Smith, increasing his average time on ice from 15:44 to 18:25.

In effect, the 20-year-old became a key member of Ottawa’s core in 2021-22 and faces rising expectations as a result. But what should the Senators demand from their Adler Mannheim product next season, and where will he figure in Smith’s depth chart? Let’s break it down.

Where Will Tim Stützle Fit in Ottawa’s 2022-23 Lineup?

It’s been a wild summer for the Senators, with the club buoyed by the arrivals of Claude Giroux and DeBrincat. Plenty has changed in Ottawa’s top-six since the start of last season, with Nick Paul departing mid-year and Connor Brown traded to the Washington Capitals in the summer.

As a result, Stützle could start 2022-23 alongside a pair of new linemates, making him the main beneficiary of Dorion’s reshuffle:

Brady TkachukJosh NorrisDrake Batherson
Alex DeBrincatTim StützleClaude Giroux
Alex FormentonShane PintoMathieu Joseph
Parker KellyDylan GambrellAustin Watson

It would make a lot of sense for the Senators to roll with a ‘DeBrincat – Stützle – Giroux’ second line, since it would keep the German playing down the middle of the ice. Moreover, the trio certainly looks spicy on paper.

Giroux has plenty of fuel left in the tank ahead of his age-35 season and is fresh off supplying 65 points (21 goals, 44 assists) in 75 appearances for the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers last season. He is a player that Ottawa had coveted for a while and will play a key role in re-establishing a winning culture within the organization.

Related: Senators’ 2022-23 Lineup Boosted By Summer Arrivals

“We’re thrilled to add a player of Claude’s calibre to our line-up,” Dorion explained on the first day of free agency. “He’s an elite offensive talent with exceptional face-off prowess and a player who maintains a strong work ethic. His leadership skills are arguably among his best assets.

“We’ve set out to bolster our roster this off-season and this addition is another important component in helping us achieve that. We’re very happy to welcome Claude and his family home to Ottawa.”

DeBrincat is also a ready-made linemate for Stützle. Despite spending the season on a struggling roster, the 24-year-old accumulated 78 points (41 goals, 37 assists) in 82 appearances for the Blackhawks in 2021-22.

“How often do you get a 40-goal scorer? Our scouts, like everyone else in the organization, like everyone in the city of Ottawa – we want to win and it’s time to start winning,” Dorion said of DeBrincat’s arrival.

If the trio finds chemistry early, Dorion’s top-six investment will prove to have been shrewd. The positive implications for Stützle’s personal development are also an alluring factor.

How High is Tim Stützle’s Ceiling?

Stützle made his professional debut during his pre-draft year, breaking into the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) with Adler Mannheim. He was an instant hit in Germany’s top flight league, producing 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 41 games en route to being crowned Rookie of the Year.

In the end, his fine form saw him selected third overall in the draft, behind Alexis Lafrenière and Quinton Byfield. Stützle’s skating ability and skill on the puck were regarded as his key attributes, although positional versatility also played a role in the 6-foot forward’s high draft stock.

Tim Stützle Adler Mannheim
Tim Stützle, formerly of Adler Mannheim (Photo Credit: Simon Hastegård/Bildbyrån).

Despite being a natural centre, the Viersen native spent his pre-draft year on the wing, adjusting to playing against adults in the DEL for the first time. It was a crash course he would later repeat in the NHL under Smith. However, his time for adjustment is now over as Stützle returned to centre ice midway through last season, helping the Senators through an injury crisis while developing the weaker points in his game.

“He got forced into [moving to centre] in a stress-free environment. We were out of [the playoff picture]. So, he was able to do it without a ton of pressure on him,” explained Smith. “And now he’s going to be able to do it with the pressure.”

However, the German was reluctant to make the switch in the preseason, asking Smith to keep him on the flank a little while longer.

“We talked about it before the season and D.J. asked me if I was comfortable playing down the middle,” Stützle told reporters at the end of last season. “And I think I said, ‘Maybe give me a couple more games and we’ll see how it goes when the season starts.’”

Taking it slow has paid off for everyone involved, as Stützle is now battle-tested at the highest level in multiple positions and the Senators have a young centreman with the potential to reach his elite ceiling. He has also started to unlock the defensive side of the sport, opening up new ice time opportunities.

If the German stays healthy after recovering from the injury that kept him out of the 2022 IIHF World Championship, there is a path for him to finish 2022-23 with an 82-point season. Stützle is a year older and will play alongside improved linemates on a more competitive team: it is a recipe for him to deliver on his superstar potential.

What is Next for the Ottawa Senators?

Despite making several eye-catching changes to his roster this offseason, Dorion must be realistic about the size of the challenge that faces the Senators over the next 12 months. It is no secret that the Eastern Conference is stacked, with multiple franchises tooling up for what they hope will be a competitive season.

As the team’s presumptive second-line centre, Stützle has an important role to play for the Senators, as he faces rising expectations but will also be buoyed by the arrival of top-end teammates. In other words, the conditions are perfect for him to enjoy a breakout year – and it could not come at a better time for Ottawa as they attempt to navigate their way back into the playoff fight.