“My goal is to get drafted as high as possible,” Stutzle stated in a manner as confident as he appears on the ice.
He has reason to be confident, though. He has 15 points in the first 17 DEL games of his career, which ranks him 16th in league scoring. Stutzle credits veteran linemates Ben Smith and Tommi Huhtala with easing his transition to the pro game. Smith, 31, has over 200 games of NHL experience with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche. Huhtala, also 31, has plenty of experience in the Finnish Liiga and with Jokerit Helsinki in the KHL.
“Both of them are great guys,” said Stutzle. “They help me and make me better every day, so it’s such a pleasure to play with them and learn from them.”
“If you have a guy like that, it doesn’t make sense to put him on the fourth line. He has to play with good players,” said Mannheim head coach Pavel Gross. “He’s been playing very well for us. He’s got a lot of talent, a lot of skills, he can beat a defenceman one-on-one, he can create scoring chances for himself and for teammates.”
Before the season, Stutzle didn’t know if he was ready to make the jump to pro hockey and was considering another season of junior hockey to maintain NCAA eligibility.
“In the summer, we didn’t know if he wanted to go to North America or stay with us,” said Gross. “He made his decision, which has been good for us and for him too.”
“It was a tough decision but I thought, the year before the draft, it would be better for me to play against bigger, stronger men,” said the 180 cm, 75 kg Stutzle. “I wasn’t sure at first but now I love it.”
As for his personal success, he said: “It’s nice to have all these points, but team-wise, we could be doing a bit better in the league.”
Stutzle’s teammates surely agree. Last season, Adler Mannheim won the DEL title but the team has been inconsistent this season and entered the international break in November having lost three in a row. Mannheim sits fourth in the 14-team league.
After the break, Mannheim played the first leg of a two-game, home-and-away series against Czech club Mountfield Hradec Kralove in the Champions Hockey League round of 16. In Hradec Kralove on Wednesday night, Mountfield won the game 1-0, meaning Mannheim has a one-goal deficit to overcome when the two teams meet again Tuesday in Germany in the total-goal affair.
“Of course we’re a little bit disappointed,” Stutzle said about the loss. “Over 60 minutes, I think we played well defensively and had some scoring chances but, yeah, today it didn’t work out so well. It’s a six-period game, though, so we can come back. We’re not in such a bad situation.”
In the game, Stutzle logged 18:11 of ice time as he, Smith and Huhtala were put on the ice by Gross in many key situations, particularly late in the game when Mannheim was trying to tie the score. Although his team failed to score in the game, Stutzle led several dangerous rushes and was difficult to bump off the puck.
“Today was a lot of ice time because there weren’t too many penalties,” Stutzle explained. “It’s a lot of fun to play with those guys, and when the coach sends us out there to play in the last minute, it’s great.”
He also showed a willingness to pay the price defensively, making a great sliding save to prevent what looked like a sure Tomas Vincour goal in the second period.
About the Champions Hockey League, in which he has two goals and three assists in seven games, Stutzle added: “I think it’s great. It’s interesting to play against different countries and see how they play, and what kinds of players they have.”
Despite his age, Stutzle already has a fairly impressive international hockey resume. He’s played in the last two U18 World Championships, taking the Best Forward award at last year’s tournament while helping Germany advance from Division I Group A to the Championship Division. The Germans accomplished the same thing at the U20 level and also went up to the top tournament.
During the international break, Stutzle joined for the German U20 team for a tournament in Slovakia. He’s looking forward to what the team can do at the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championship in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic.
“Our team goal is to win,” Stutzle said optimistically, despite being placed in an extremely strong Group A with the USA, Russia, Canada and the host Czechs. “It’s going to be pretty tough, we know that, but we’ll try our best and see what happens.”
“We have a lot of guys who play top minutes in the DEL and DEL2 – Schutz is playing great in Munich – and if everybody comes together, I think we could do pretty well.”
Stutzle knows them all pretty well but especially Seider, who is also a Mannheim product. Seider’s excellent DEL rookie season last year got him picked sixth overall in the NHL Entry Draft and he now plays in the AHL for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Stutzle said of Seider. “I talk to him a lot – just yesterday, in fact. He’s such a great player and I think he’s going to make the NHL either this season or next.”
And Stutzle might not be far behind.
“For sure, we won’t have him anymore after this season,” smiled Gross, who went through the same thing last year with Seider. “Guys with that kind of talent, you have to support them and help them to develop and be ready for the next step.”
Champions Hockey League round of 16 updateMannheim, which trails Mountfield 1-0, is one of three German teams remaining among the last 16 in the European club championship. The Augsburger Panther built up a 2-0 lead on home ice against Swiss club EHC Biel-Bienne but watched in evaporate in the third period and will travel to Switzerland tied 2-2 on aggregate. Meanwhile, Red Bull Munich fell behind Yunost Minsk 2-0 in the first period, but came back to win the game 3-2, meaning the game in Munich starts with the home team leading by a goal.
The last Finnish team remaining, Tappara Tampere, was in big trouble after falling behind EV Zug 3-0 in Tampere, but rallied to tie the score before the end of the game, meaning the game in Zug will begin with the teams on even footing. Also even in goals after one game are Swedish teams Skelleftea AIK and Djurgarden Stockholm, also 3-3. Lausanne HC won 2-1 in Plzen, Czech Republic and start with a one-goal lead on home ice.
Two Swedish teams currently have three-goal leads. Lulea Hockey, the CHL’s 2014/15 champion, won 3-0 in Bern, Switzerland, with goalie David Rautio extending his shutout streak to 125:21. Meanwhile, three-time CHL winner Frolunda Gothenburg is in trouble after falling 6-3 in the first game to Farjestad Karlstad – although that game was 5-0 early in the third period.
The second legs of the round of 16 will be played next Tuesday and Wednesday. The quarter-finals are scheduled for 3-4 and 10 December, the semi-finals for 7-8 and 14-15 January, and the one-game final for Tuesday, 4 February.