After a taste of homemade food, Stuetzle aims to return to where he left off

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When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.

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Or in Ottawa Senators teen Tim Stuetzle, go home to toast to the season with the family.

The NHL’s COVID-induced closure in late December put a pause on the momentum Stuetzle had built up earlier in the month, but he did not sit still.

Instead, he returned home to Germany for a few days to catch up with his loved ones.

“I was able to return to see my family and grandparents,” Stuetzle said Wednesday after the team’s training at the Canadian Tire Center. “I was really, really happy to see them. I haven’t celebrated Christmas with them in two years.”

Last year at this point, of course, Stuetzle showed a show at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Alberta, helping his upstart and COVID-filled German squad to an impressive performance.

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Stuetzle scored five goals and five assists in five games and was named the tournament’s all-star team.

Stuetzle was also all-in as a fan of the current tournament, cheering on his underdog German team, with many of his former teammates.

Germany and Canada were scheduled to play on Wednesday before the International Ice Hockey Federation pulled the plug on the entire tournament.

So much for all the good-natured rib between Stuetzle and his Canadian teammates for training on Wednesday morning.

Now it’s back to the NHL industry as Stuetzle aims to return where he left off before the break, finding his legs and touching the net after a slow start.

Stuetzle opened the season without a goal in his first 13 games and he had only one goal in his first 22 competitions, where he fought alongside his team through the end of November.

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Perhaps not coincidentally, he has seen more at home in the past month after being moved to the center from the left wing he had called home since joining the Senators to start the 2020-21 season.

He has four goals and three assists in his last nine games, a stretch in which the Senators have set a record of 5-3-1.

Stuetzle has been more present in the middle, mainly because the puck is on his stick more often, giving him more opportunities to dictate the game. He wins several one-on-one fights with defenders because of his speed.

“He looks so much more confident, especially in his own zone with the puck,” Senators coach DJ Smith said. “Sometimes he gives up the puck and loses it, but that’s part of being young in this league. He just looks so more confident on skates. He is doing well with his offensive and his defense. He’s going to be a really good player in this league for a long time. You know (with young players) at some point the lights come on and they start to feel much more confident. “

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It’s exciting to look back at the 2020 draft, where Stuetzle was selected as third.

First overall pick Alexis Lafrieniere has yet to leave with the New York Rangers and has scored just six goals and two assists in 30 games this season. Second overall pick Quinton Byfield of the Los Angeles Kings has missed most of the season with an ankle injury, without points in four games with Ontario Reign, the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate.

To date, the fourth overall pick, Lucas Raymond of the Detroit Red Wings (10 goals, 18 assists in 30 games), has produced the most this season.

Stuetzle, which turns 20 on January 15, is not yet a finished product.

As Smith pointed out, he is prone to turnover. Learning how to consistently win faceoffs in the NHL is also a time-consuming process, and Stuetzle has only won 33.3 percent of his draws to date. In some crucial situations in the defensive zone, Smith may opt out of using Stuetzle.

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“The last time I played (in the middle) was three years ago,” Stuetzle said, pointing out that there is an adjustment due to the smaller NHL ice surface. “I’m getting better at faceoffs.”

Among ordinary center men, Josh Norris leads the senators with a success rate of 49.9 percent, and Stuetzle leans on him for tips and support.

“Everyone is trying to help me as much as they can, especially Josh, because he’s been playing there for two years now (in the NHL),” Stuetzle said. “And he has played there all his life. He is a very good face man. I also want to be put out there on the offensive and defensive (draw).

As Stuetzle sees it, the mood and attitude in the locker room is optimistic, far from where the senators were after the fighting in November.

“Everyone came back (from Christmas) positive and with a lot of confidence, just happy to be able to come back and practice with (everything else) shut down,” he said. “We’re having a lot of fun as a group.”

kwarren@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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