Can Tim Stützle Have an Impact at Centre?

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 15: Tim Stutzle #18 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on February 15, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Senators defeated the Maple Leafs 6-5 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Sens are heading into San Jose coming off a 7-5 loss against Colorado on Monday night, and looking to avoid a three game skid. Can Tim Stützle shifting over to centre have the impact that the team needs?

Ottawa put up a valiant effort on Monday but were unable to overcome the star power put forth by the Avalanche. Ottawa’s Zach Sanford netted a hat trick and Tkachuk came away with two assists, but unfortunately were no match for Nazem Kadri’s four points, or Cale Makar’s two goals.

I wrote on Monday that if Stützle could come away with a point or two against a tough Colorado team, it may give him the confidence he needs to go on a nice little offensive run. He finished the game with one power play assist on a fantastic play getting the puck on net and forcing a rebound out wide to a waiting Josh Norris, who buried it into the open cage. The question tonight will be if Stützle can continue his strong play against the Sharks, at a position he has yet to play at the NHL level.

It came out Tuesday morning at practice that Stützle was skating down the middle between Nick Paul and Connor Brown, something that coach DJ Smith has yet to experiment with in Stützle’s short NHL career.

It will be interesting to see how Stützle can adapt to the position, with his last time skating down the middle being three years ago, before his impressive rookie season in the DEL, where he also played left wing. However, when Stützle was drafted 3rd overall in 2020, Senators management continually stated he was drafted to play at the centre position in the NHL. In saying this, it was peculiar that when Stützle made the team out of camp last year, he was on the left side, and not at centre, like the organization said he would be. 

Perhaps the organization decided it would be better for his development to play him on the wing until he can become more acclimated to the NHL, and then switch him over to the middle, once he becomes stronger and more defensively reliable.

It seems like that time might be upon us. Stützle has quietly been Ottawa’s best defensive forward this year and, apart from a couple bad turnovers in the offensive zone, his analytical numbers demonstrate his strong ability to compete defensively at this level.

As long as his defensive play doesn’t suffer from the change to centre, I believe this is the right move for the young forward, as skating down the middle will provide him more opportunities to have the puck on his stick, control the play, and find his line mates for opportunities off the rush. Stützle plays better when he gets plenty of touches and carries the puck through the neutral zone, so hopefully this move can help elevate his offensive game without him becoming a defensive liability.

This is a good move by DJ Smith to try and provide a spark to the last place Senators.

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