Tim Stuetzle will benefit from starting his NHL career on the wing despite the success he’s having at center at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said Thursday.
“It’s been unbelievable hockey,” Dorion said. “But I think the World Junior is one thing, the NHL is another thing.”
Stuetzle, selected No. 3 by the Senators in the 2020 NHL Draft, has scored 10 points (five goals, five assists) in four games at the WJC entering play Thursday, tied with Germany teammate John-Jason Peterka (10 points; four goals, six assists) and United States forward Trevor Zegras (10 points; five goals, five assists) for the tournament scoring lead. The 18-year-old, who is Germany’s captain, has scored points on 10 of Germany’s 14 goals and has helped lead them to the quarterfinals for the first time at the World Juniors.
Earlier this week, Stuetzle told NHL.com that his New Year’s Resolution is to step right into Ottawa’s lineup this season.
“My goal is to play in the NHL so for sure it would be disappointing [not to],” he said. “I will work very hard.”
Dorion said Stuetzle will have every opportunity to make the team but likely will have to shift positions in order to learn the nuances of playing center at the NHL level. He said coach D.J. Smith agrees with the move because it’s “for his development for him to be the best player that we think he’s going to be.
“For his first year, especially in this shortened season, he’ll probably play more left wing than center. But he’s got a lot of traits of a center as far as his ability to generate plays off the fly, how he carries the puck a lot and how he gains the zone. If you look at his analytic numbers they’ve been off the charts as far as puck possession.
“He’s got a lot of the great qualities as a center but what comes with that is the play away from the puck and defensive responsibilities. As much as he’s got high NHL talent, away from the puck he still has a lot of work.”
The Senators recently traded for Derek Stepan and Cedric Paquette, centers who can mentor Stuetzle and hold down the position. Stepan, who was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 26, has played 739 regular-season games in the NHL and 106 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Paquette, who helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Cup last season, was acquired Dec. 27. He has played in 377 regular-season NHL games and 91 postseason games.
Neither player was on hand when the Senators practiced for the first time at training camp Thursday. Stepan is in Arizona waiting for his wife to give birth in early January; Paquette is in quarantine after arriving from the United States.
Dorion said it was important to bolster the position with veterans.
“We wanted to protect and isolate some of the younger players and some of our other younger centers, whether it’s Colin White, Logan Brown, Josh Norris,” he said. “We want to make sure they grow because they’re going to be facing some very good centers in the [North] Division. Any night they could be facing either [Auston] Matthews or [John] Tavares, [Elias] Pettersson or[Bo] Horvat, [Mark] Scheifele or [Paul] Stastny, [Connor] McDavid or [Leon] Draisaitl, so we wanted to make sure that we had someone who could play the tough hard minutes.
“We’re going to give our young players a chance to play, because a lot of people question that. But at the same time, we want them to be successful in their development and have as much internal competition as we can.”