Another German hockey star could be part of Steve Yzerman's rebuild in Detroit.
A year after the Red Wings' general manager selected Mannheim defenseman Moritz Seider with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Seider's former teammate Tim Stutzle is the No. 1-ranked European player for the 2020 draft and could form a potential one-two punch from Germany, one of the emerging hockey nations in the world.
Yzerman knows all about Stutzle, a 6-foot, 190-pound winger who was named rookie of the year with 34 points in 41 games with the Mannheim Eagles in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top-tier men's league.
A year ago while scouting Seider in Mannheim, Yzerman met Stutzle for an informal conversation about the forward's future.
"It was great to talk to such a legend," Stutzle said. "I wasn't that high on the draft list but he wanted to know what I was going to do the following season. The discussion was about staying in Mannheim or going the college hockey route. It was my first conversation with an NHL manager and it was really interesting."
Now, Stutzle is being interviewed by NHL teams on a regular basis, especially with the season shut down since March 18 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues called last week just in case they move up into a lottery position. A day before, the Red Wings talked by conference call with Stutzle, who is at home in Mannheim and practicing safe social distance guidelines while training with Seider in groups of two and three teammates.
"I would be happy to have him on our team and put that winged wheel on," Seider said. "He's an unbelievable kid. He showed the whole world what he has in his toolbox this season. I'm just there by his side, supporting him. He has a bright future, for sure."
The 18-year-old Stutzle, who has been compared to three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and former NHL MVP Taylor Hall of the Arizona Coyotes, was rated among the top four players in the Central Scouting final rankings along with Rimouski winger Alexis Lafreniere, Sudbury center Quinton Byfield and Erie defenseman Jamie Drysdale.
The dates for the draft lottery and the draft haven't been announced yet but, at worst, the Red Wings would have the fourth overall pick and are expected to add either Lafreniere, Byfield, Stutzle or Drysdale to their rebuilding team which sits in last place in the abbreviated season with only 17 wins in 71 games.
"Steve Yzerman is not reluctant to select a player he feels is the best for his team," said TSN analyst and ex-NHL general manager Craig Button, a former Ann Arbor resident who has been featured on The Detroit News' NHL Draft preview show the past two seasons. "Wouldn't surprise me if he took Stutzle first overall."
The highest a German hockey player has ever been drafted is third overall in 2014 by Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who leads the NHL in scoring with 110 points in 71 games, and in 1963 by Boston Bruins draft pick Orest Romashyna, who never played in the NHL and became a school teacher in Waterloo, Ontario.
Stutzle's development into one of the NHL's top prospects reflects the improvements in German hockey, which ranks ninth in the world with only 21,340 registered players in 2019 compared to Canada (621,026) and the United States (567,908).
Germany won a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, eight players have been selected in the first round of the NHL Draft (Draisaitl, Romashyna, Seider, Marco Sturm, Marcel Goc, Dominik Bokk and Olaf Kolzig) and Stutzle's linemates at the world U20 championships, John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel, are ranked among the top 10 European players for the upcoming draft.
"Back in the day, it was about playing hard and tough hockey and there weren't as many young guys in the league," Seider said. "Now, there's more emphasis on skill development, more coaching on and off the ice and young guys are getting the trust of their coaches and being put in important situations in a game."
Stutzle said Seider paved the way and "made it right" to play another year in Germany with older and more experienced players rather than head to the United States or Canada to play against players their own age in junior or college hockey.
Stutzle's linemates in Mannheim were 31-year-old Ben Smith, who won a Stanley Cup in Chicago with Kane in 2013, a Calder Cup in Toronto in 2018 and a DEL title with Seider in 2019, and 32-year-old Tommi Huhtala, a Finnish winger with 41 goals in three years with the Eagles, including the championship season.
"They're great linemates and they played a big role in my development," said Stutzle, who also credited Mannheim head coach Pavel Gross and former New Jersey Devils skills development coach Pertti Hasanen for helping with the transition to the DEL. "It's not normal a guy at my age gets 14 to 19 minutes of ice time in a professional league. They really wanted to make me better in all situations."
Stutzle, who made the move to wing from center for the first time in his career this year, said Gross wanted him to use his speed and drive to the net more often and put more pucks on goal, especially in the playoffs.
"He's an awesome playmaker," said Seider, who was the captain and led the German team in ice time and assists at the world championships this year. "He's not an elite sniper yet. He's doing a lot more assists than goals. He will add goals to his game but right now, he's always driving, always forechecking. He doesn't take any seconds off."
For now, Stutzle will train in Germany during the COVID-19 outbreak and wait for the NHL Draft. He said he's not concerned about breaking Draisaitl's record and becoming the highest-drafted German player in NHL history.
"Leon Draisaitl is a role model for many of us over here in Germany," Stutzle said. "My goal at the beginning of the season was to get drafted as high as possible. Right now, being ranked in the top three or top five is already a big honor. It's a first step in the right direction but it's not my goal in the end."
Stutzle also said he's aware of possibly being reunited with Seider if Yzerman calls out his name in a draft which will likely be conducted online similar to this past weekend's NFL Draft.
(The Red Wings have had two other German players on the roster during the club's 94-year history: defensemen Willie Huber and Uwe Krupp, whose son Bjorn was a teammate of Stutzle's this year).
"Moe is always making fun about it," Stutzle said. "Like, if you come to Detroit, it's going to be a lot of fun. I wouldn't say no, that's for sure. It would be a great thing."
Tim Stutzle profile
Who: Tim Stutzle
What: No. 1-ranked European in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings
Team: Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga
Weight: 190 pounds
Stats: Seven goals, 27 assists, 34 points in 41 games this year
Red Wings connection: Two German defensemen, Willie Huber and Uwe Krupp, have played for the Red Wings. Huber was Detroit's first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) in 1978 and had 208 points in five seasons in Detroit. Krupp was part of the 2002 championship team but his name wasn't engraved on the Cup because of an injury which limited him to only eight regular-season games and two playoff games.
German first-round NHL picks
2019: Moritz Seider (Detroit/sixth), Zell
2018: Dominik Bokk (St. Louis/25th), Schweinfurt
2014: Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton/third), Cologne
2001: Marcel Goc (San Jose/20th), Calw
1996: Marco Sturm (San Jose/21st), Dingolfing
1989: Olaf Kolzig (Washington/19th), born in Johannesburg, German parents
1978: Willie Huber (Detroit/ninth), Strasskirchen
1963: Orest Romashyna (Boston/third), Rheine