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GARRIOCH: Top prospect Tim Stuetzle has a chance to be a dominant player in the NHL

Tim Stuetzle has been compared to Patrick Kane (pictured) of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Tim Stuetzle has been compared to Patrick Kane (pictured) of the Chicago Blackhawks.

One way or another, Tim Stuetzle’s hockey career will have a new home around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

He’ll land either at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa or the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but there’s not much of a chance he’ll slip past No. 3 in the first round of the NHL draft which will be held virtually.

Stuetzle, a forward with the Mannheim Eagles in the German league (DEL), was the top-ranked international skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau and if the Kings opt for forward Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves at No. 2 then the Senators will likely him at No. 3.

As Stuetzle noted in a Zoom call with reporters last week, he can’t choose his destination.

“I can’t handle the draft and I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he replied when asked if he’d thought about Ottawa or Los Angeles? “I just try to play my game. work hard on and off the ice so we’ll see what’s going to happen in the end.”

He has been compared to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and those who have watched Stuetzle grow up as a player believe the sky is the limit once he gets to the NHL.

“It’s tough between him and Byfield,” said former Ottawa 67’s star Peter Lee, GM of the Berlin Eisbaren in the DEL, who has been watching Stuetzle since he played youth hockey. “Stuetzle has an attitude to him and I mean that in a positive way. He wants the puck, he wants to be in the game. He’s not just a ‘I’m happy to be here’ type of guy.

“He’s driven and you can see that by his fitness and everything else. You just assume his competency is just going to go higher. His understanding of the game is high level. The only problem is when you get that high you’re expected to be a franchise-level player and that’s a tough one to live up to.”

On that point, the 64-year-old Lee speaks from experience.

He was selected No. 12 overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1976 draft after a record-setting junior career with Ottawa, but he couldn’t crack a lineup filled with superstars that was in the midst of winning four straight Stanley Cups. He spent six years with the Pittsburgh Penguins before signing overseas and has been one of the pioneers of helping German hockey get to the point where it’s developing players for the NHL.

“I’m not sure if he’ll be expected to do it this year because of the different circumstances but normally he’d be expected to be in the NHL this season,” Lee said. “But, he’s got drive. There’s always critics, but this kid pushes and he wants to succeed. He’s been like that ever since he started playing, even when he was in minor hockey.

“He’s one of those guys that’s got natural talent but he’s not one of those guys who floats around just because he’s got natural talent. He wants to be a factor. When he went into Mannheim last year (as a 17-year-old), he didn’t just want to be a fourth-liner. He wanted to be on the power play and he wanted to be able to play in every situation. They gave him the opportunity once they saw him play. He earned his ice time and he was one of the better players.

“We’ve got to win over here and this isn’t a development league where you’re going to have a bunch of young kids play through the tough times. You’ve got to earn your ice time.”

Stuetzle had seven goals and 34 points with Mannheim last season and also suited up for Germany at the world junior championships overseas. He has been on the ice with his club team through the course of the summer and has been training to get ready for whatever happens because the DEL year hasn’t started yet either.

Ideally, he’d like to play in the NHL this season and he’s had the opportunity to play against men which should help his development.

“I’ve learned a lot from the veterans playing (in Mannheim) already.” Stuetzle said. “After practice when they went home, I went to school. It’s been kind of crazy, but I’ve had a lot of fun and it’s been a great experience. Skating in the morning wasn’t normal for a young kid like because normally I’d go to school.

“Everything was definitely professional, everybody watched what they ate and watched their nutrition. You can learn so many things from those guys. For me, it was an unreal experience.”

Being compared to Kane is something Stuetzle doesn’t take for granted.

“My teammates always said that to me and being talked about that way is a big honour for me,” Stuetzle said. “I’m still far away from him and there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Lee is confident Stuetzle will have success in the NHL with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl helping pave the way for German hockey.

“I’ve been watching since he was playing on the under-14 team. He was just head and shoulders above everybody just like Leon Draisaitl was when he played at that level,” Lee said. “You knew Stuetzle was something special and you could tell he wanted more.”

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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