Tim Stutzle will make his NHL debut on his 19th birthday when the Ottawa Senators host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday (7 p.m. ET; TSN5, RDS, TSN4, NHL.TV).
“It’s a very special day, so I think it’s normal to be nervous,” Stutzle said. “It can be good to be nervous, but in the end, I think I can kind of control it during the game.”
Stutzle has impressed coach D.J. Smith after arriving to training camp on Sunday following the World Junior Championship, in which he scored 10 points (five goals, five assists) in five games for Germany. The No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft will start the season in the top six, playing left wing on a line with Derek Stepan and Evgenii Dadonov.
“Just go out there and play the game that you love,” Smith said when asked what advice he’s given to Stutzle. “There’s a reason you were drafted where you were drafted. We know you’re a special player. We’re not basing your career on your first game in the NHL.”
Teammate Brady Tkachuk can relate to Stutzle’s journey. The forward was selected with the No. 4 pick by Ottawa in the 2018 NHL Draft and made the team in his first training camp.
“With him and with everybody it’s about the offseason, the preparation put in and the working out and skating; you do a bunch of little things,” Tkachuk said. “But you can never really tell until you’re here and you’re a part of the pace and you’re a part of the physicality. But with Tim, watching him this week, watching him at the World Juniors, you can clearly see a guy who’s ready to go.”
Prior to the first of 10 games between the Senators and Maple Leafs this season, Stutzle said his teammates have made him aware of the contentious history of the Battle of Ontario.
“A couple guys already told me it’s a big rivalry,” Stutzle said. “It’s always a tough game to play and everyone’s looking forward to it, especially right now, it’s the first game for everybody after a lot of time (off).”
Players on the other side of the rivalry are aware of what Stutzle can do.
“I watched his World Juniors,” Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner said. “He’s a [heck] of a player. What he did for that German team was pretty impressive.”
For Stutzle, the day started with his teammates singing, “Happy Birthday,” and will end with his first NHL game, which he hopes his friends and family can stay awake for in Germany, where it will be just after 1 a.m. at puck drop.
“It’s my first NHL game and definitely a dream come true,” Stutzle said. “I just can’t wait to go out there tonight and play the best hockey I can and hopefully it’s going to work out and hopefully we come out with a win.”