Stutzle primed to join NHL’s superstar class
If year three was the breakout season for Ottawa Senators forward Tim Stutzle, year four may be the time we start considering him a superstar.
If we don’t already, that is.
In advance of TSN’s Top 50 pre-season player rankings, I started to evaluate Stutzle’s track record of performance – he’s fresh off a 90-point season with the Senators in his age-20 season, it should be noted – against other elite skaters around the league, and was surprised at how few players I’d be willing to bet on ahead of the German forward.
It’s a fascinating dynamic for an Ottawa organization that has ushered in the tail end of this rebuild on the backs of players like Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, two talented players who have given the fan base real hope the tide is starting to turn.
But a combination of Stutzle’s early production and an exceptionally promising developmental curve have positioned him to take over as the face of the franchise. That’s not an opinion I offer lightly, especially considering how good players like Tkachuk and Chabot have been.
Consider the growth we have seen in Stutzle’s play and performance over the first three seasons of his career. He’s generally played at the top of Ottawa’s lineup, with his most common linemates including the aforementioned Tkachuk, as well as Claude Giroux and Drake Batherson.
Let’s first look at his rate scoring:
It goes without saying that Stutzle (and by and large, most Ottawa forwards) have seen performance gains as Ottawa transitioned from a dreadful team toiling in a rebuild to one that could generate meaningful offence over the past couple of seasons. But Stutzle’s jump was significant and outsized, even relative to his teammates.
And while Stutzle’s individual goal production benefited from working with high-end passers like Giroux and Chabot on the back end, those players benefited from Stutzle’s own playmaking ability.
A confident puck carrier and creator, Stutzle seemed to threaten on every shift last season, and remarkably, he broke even in terms of goal differential with him on the ice by season end – not the easiest accomplishment for a team finishing well outside of the playoffs.
Those three-year numbers are captured below, both by real and expected goal differential:
Not only did Stutzle break even on an otherwise challenged team, but expected goal rates were just under 55 per cent – a number indicative of a player whose line is routinely playing with control in the offensive zone. A 55 per cent expected goal share is nothing to sneeze at; we are talking a percentage comparable to Toronto’s Mitch Marner and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, to borrow two forward examples from around the league.
How do we explain the nearly five-percentage-point gap between real and expected goals? The talent within the skater group certainly skews offensively, and players – including Stutzle – can do a much better job protecting the net front and limiting teams to one-and-done opportunities in the offensive zone. But last year’s performance delta was about goaltending more than anything else. Veteran Cam Talbot struggled all year, Anton Forsberg missed significant time with injury, and Mads Sogaard wasn’t good enough in relief.
To that end, it’s not difficult to understand why the Senators invested heavily in the goaltending position, though I would have went in a much different direction than Joonas Korpisalo. But with a promising young skating core assembled and NHL-ready, headlined by Stutzle, the Senators sorely need adequate goaltending backstopping their weaponry.
Whether that bet will pay off remains to be seen. But one bet I’m willing to make? Stutzle is a budding superstar, and we may see another explosive move to the upside in the season ahead.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, NHL.com, Hockey Reference