Stuetzle shakes off nerves, fits in during first practice with Senators

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Tim Stuetzle practiced with the Ottawa Senators for the first time Sunday and it didn’t take long before the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft felt at home.

“I was nervous at the beginning,” Stuetzle said. “But the boys did all the best to get the nervousness away from me, so I felt very good and comfortable on the ice with them.

“It was such an exciting day.”

Exciting for the 18-year-old forward, the Senators and their fans as well.

There has been a tangible buzz in Ottawa since the late Alex Trebek, the long-time host of “Jeopardy!” and an alumnus of the University of Ottawa, announced Stuetzle’s selection by the Senators at the draft Oct. 6. 

Anticipation grew when Stuetzle was named the top forward at the 2021 World Junior Championship in Edmonton, where he scored 10 points (five goals, five assists) and averaged 25:40 of ice time in five games for Germany 

After the World Juniors, he arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 2 and had to serve a week-long quarantine before joining the Senators at training camp.

Anxious to check out his new hockey home, Stuetzle was picked up at his hotel at 6:30 a.m. Sunday and taken to Canadian Tire Centre. Several hours later, forward Brady Tkachuk called on the rookie to lead the Senators in stretching exercises before his first practice.

“It was kind of funny, but I like to do it,” Stuetzle said. “They make it easy for me to fit in.”

He said that Tkachuk and forward Josh Norris invited him to live with them this season. Stuetzle jumped at the opportunity and said it should help him acclimate more quickly to living in a new country.

Stuetzle also mentioned that forward Derek Stepan, who was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes Dec. 27, has already helped him adjust. 

Stepan stayed in Arizona for the birth of his third child Dec. 30 and, like Stuetzle, did not arrive in Ottawa until Jan. 2. The two quarantined in the same hotel and got to know each other well, albeit while practicing social distancing.

“He’s a good kid,” Stepan said. “I joked with my wife that I have three little ones at home, and I adopted a German 18-year-old.”

Stuetzle said he’s grateful for Stepan’s friendship and advice.

“He’s a great mentor,” Stuetzle said. “He really helped me a lot during quarantine with stuff like food. We had workouts in the hotel and got to know each other pretty quick. He’s a great guy, a great leader, and it’s unbelievable to be around such a great veteran. Hopefully I can learn a lot from him.”

Coach D.J. Smith said it was nice to have a complete team on the ice Sunday after Stuetzle, Stepan and defenseman Erik Brannstrom all practiced for the first time after completing quarantine. Stepan and Stuetzle were on a line with wing Evgenii Dadonov but Smith said the team is preaching patience when it comes to handling its prized rookie.

“There’s going to be bumps in the road for sure,” Smith said. “But he’s a responsible hockey player and at some point he’s going to be play in all situations. You want to put him in a situation to succeed.

“We’re conscious of the fact he’s a good young player and we want him to develop properly.”

Stuetzle said he understands the hype around him, though none of that matters until he establishes himself in the NHL.

“It’s great for me, obviously,” he said. “But first I need to prove myself at this level. And that’s my goal. 

“I hope I’m going to have a good training camp. It’s great that everybody’s so excited but first of all I need to prove myself and play good hockey. That’s the first step right now.”

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