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It was a big day in a lot of ways for Tim Stuetzle.
Not only was the Ottawa Senators’ No. 3 overall pick in the NHL draft celebrating his 19th birthday, he had a bigger challenge to tackle ahead of him by making his NHL debut Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the season opener at the Canadian Tire Centre.
While Stuetzle had no shortage of good wishes, his focus was on taking the right approach as he started on a line with veteran centre Derek Stepan and winger Evgenii Dadonov.
“It’s a special day. It’s my first NHL game and it’s definitely a dream come true,” said Stuetzle following Friday’s morning skate.
His roommates, Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris, woke him up Friday morning singing Happy Birthday.
“My birthday is going to be pushed back a little,” Stuetzle said . “My first thing right now is preparing to play for my first NHL game. I’m very excited for that and I can’t wait to play.
“It’s very normal to be nervous and it can be good to be nervous but in the end I think I can control it in the game. I think I’ll be nervous in the first few minutes but then I think it will be fine.”
His parents are back home in Germany and Stuetzle planned to speak to him after the game. Several of his former teammates with Mannheim had sent him texts saying they’d be watching and former teammate David Wolf sent him a Senators cake with No. 19 candles.
Coach D.J. Smith didn’t want Stuetzle to get caught up in the hype of his first game.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just go out there and play the game that you love,” Smith said. “There’s a reason you were draft where you were drafted and we know you’re a special player. We’re not basing your career on your first game in the NHL. Go out there and do what you can do to help the team to win.”
Still, Stuetzle turned heads at the world juniors with Team Germany and he has made people around the league take notice of the kind of talent he’s got.
“I’m very curious, I watched his world juniors, and he’s a hell of a player,” said Toronto winger Mitch Marner. “He’s got a lot of skill in him and he works hard. What he did for that German team was pretty impressive. It should be fun to play against him and see what he’s got.
“For us, we’ve got to make it hard on him and take away open space. He’s very mobile, good at making his own space, creating it and finding people, and we have to make sure we stay tight to him. He’s a very good player and it should be fun seeing him first hand here.”
SITTING AND WAITING
It didn’t come as a surprise after he skated with Alex Galchenyuk and Micheal Haley the last couple of days, but centre Colin White was a scratch for the opener. By all accounts. he got off to a good start in camp, however, that hadn’t been the case of late. “Ultimately, it’s my decision at the end of the day,” Smith said. “The four centre’s ahead of him had very good camps, not say Colin didn’t have a good camp as well, but I think sometimes penalty killing and power play situations play into it and what roles guys fit into.” Defenceman Mike Reilly also sat and he would have been pencilled into many starting lineups going into camp. “There’s 56 games, there’s going to be guys in and out all the time. I know it’s a big story today but Colin’s going to help us win games and be a big part of this going forward,” said Smith … Unable to leave their hotel on road, except to go for a walk, Marner has suggested the Leafs purchase a karaoke machine they can bring with them. “That might be a fun thing to do on the road if we can’t go out to restaurants or anything,” Marner said. “Something that can get all the fellas together, especially on these road trips where we’re gone for awhile.” Marner said he has Karaoke machine and his go to song is “Dancing on My Own” by Calum Scott.
THE LAST WORDS
If you’ve never seen Smith chew gum behind the bench then you haven’t been watching. He gets a new stick before every period and Smith is pretty rapid. He had the added challenge of wearing a mask. “I haven’t put much thought into that but we’ll try it early (Friday) and see what happens,” Smith said … Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk missed his first opener since he purchased the team out of bankruptcy in 2013. Under NHL protocols, he would have been allowed at the rink, but would have had to leave his family at home. He opted to stay at the family cottage in Barrie to watch the game with his girlfriend, Shari Anderson along with daughters Anna and Olivia and mother, Vera … D Christian Wolanin’s three-goal effort in Monday’s scrimmage turned heads. “He moved pucks out well and skated really well. That’s something we need from him. His offence, he can help on the power play and he can get up and down the ice, he’s just got to prove he can defend in the NHL,” Smith said. “He’s someone that we’re really high on and just another young guy that’s in the lineup (against the Leafs).”
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