The Race For 3rd Overall: Lucas Raymond or Tim Stützle?

I’ve seen a few lists with Tim Stützle or Lucas Raymond at second overall, but the consensus view of the draft— and how I expect NHL teams to see it— is Alexis Lafrenière and Quinton Byfield going first and second overall, respectively. Where things get muddier is the third selection: where there is no clear cut favorite but most agree will likely come down to one of Raymond or Stützle (Jamie Drysdale, the best defenceman in the draft, is an intriguing dark horse).

At this point in the season, Raymond and Stützle are on level ground in terms of draft value. Colin Cudmore’s Expected Range spreadsheet has just 7 value points separating the two— to put that in perspective, the gap between Lafrenière and Byfield using his system is 51 points, over 7 times larger than the divide in the race for third overall. They have identical expected draft ranges, forecasting to go in the first three to six picks in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Stützle and Raymond’s 2019-20 campaigns are over, thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak that has forced the cancellation or suspension of just about every hockey league in the world. Stützle played 41 games in the DEL, Germany’s top professional circuit. He tallied 7 goals and 27 assists for 31 points. Raymond suited up 33 times in the SHL, typically considered to be the third best league in the world (for comparison, the DEL is probably around the 8th best, so there is a fairly significant gap in quality of competition to take into account here). Over that span, he recorded 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points, along with another 14 points in 9 games in the U20 SuperElit (Sweden’s equivalent of the Canadian Hockey League).

We’ll get into some video later, but let’s start with as deep of a dive into the statistics of the pair as possible to start. We’ll start as basic as we can: Stützle managed 0.83 points-per-game in the DEL, compared to a rate of 0.30 points/game for Lucas Raymond in the SHL. Looking at this top statistical layer, Stützle would appear to be the vastly superior player, at least offensively. But let’s look deeper: there are a few important contextual factors to take note of here.

We briefly touched on the gap in league quality, and we’ll come back to that in a moment. First, let’s address the usage of each player. Stützle averaged just over 16 minutes per game for Adler Mannheim, generally used in a middle-six role (he had the 6th highest average TOI/game of Mannheim forwards). That’s a pretty decent chunk of ice-time in a fairly offensive role. In comparison, Raymond averaged less than 10 minutes per match with Frölunda, ranking 13th among forwards in TOI/game. That reflects his general usage perfectly– often times, Raymond suited up as the 13th, or “extra” forward (the SHL has looser roster limits than the NHL or other North American leagues), not playing a regular rotation but rather subbing in for infrequent shifts throughout the game. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to produce playing 16 minutes a night in a more freely offensive role than it is in infrequent, more bottom-six defensively-oriented shifts that add up to about 10 minutes per game. Let’s transition from points/game to points per sixty minutes of TOI to better account for these differences in usage. Looking at it that way, Raymond produced at a rate of 1.86 points/60, compared to Stutzle’s 3.09. Still quite a wide gap, but smaller than before,

Now let’s tackle the big separator– league quality. NHLe estimates by Emmanuel Perry pin a point in the Swedish Hockey League as being equivalent to ~0.63 NHL points. To put it in a different manner: it’s roughly 63% as difficult to record a point in the SHL as it is in the NHL; or the other way around, it is about 59% more difficult to score a point in the NHL than it is in the SHL. Meanwhile, his model estimates that a point in the DEL is worth about 0.3 NHL points. So essentially, a point in the SHL is twice as difficult to come by than it is in the DEL by this measure. Another system, devised by Marc Richards, has the SHL as 32.5% more difficult to score a point in. That assessment is closer to my personal feeling of the strength of each league. For the purpose of this article, we’ll take the rough average of those two measures: let’s say that a point in the DEL is equivalent to about 0.6 SHL points.

So with that established, we can now adjust Raymond and Stutzle’s numbers to simulate an even playing ground. Adjusting Raymond’s statistics to DEL scoring levels, we can estimate that the Swede would have produced at a clip of about 3.1 points/60 in the German circuit. Remember, Stützle managed 3.09 points/60, so the gap between the two is absolutely miniscule when we look at it in this fashion. That large gap has completely dissipated after accounting for just a few factors– yet another example of how context is key. There are a few other statistical trends to explore here. 68% of Stützle’s points came at even-strength, compared to 70% for Raymond. Again, very similar. 62% of Stützle’s points were primary– goals or primary assists– versus 80% for Raymond. More of a difference now: Raymond didn’t find the scoresheet a whole lot, but he was very involved in the points that he did manage– more so than Stutzle.

With this exercise done, it would appear that Raymond had the statistically superior season to Stützle, but by a rather thin margin. Of course, this could very well be debated– it primarily comes down to how one values the DEL in comparison to the Swedish Hockey League. But I’m trusting our process here, which indicates that Stützle and Raymond were quite similar in their statistic impacts in their respective leagues.

With that established, let’s move to some video. We’re going to look at the primary components of each player’s game individually, to identify their respective strengths (and weaknesses) and do our best to project which one will be the more impactful NHL player (spoiler alert: Both players are going to be crazy good). But first, some introductions.

Skating

Looking only at straight-line speed, Lucas Raymond has a clear edge in this category. The Swede is widely regarded to be among the strongest skaters in the draft class, and can fly through the neutral zone at incredible speeds. He’s one of the biggest terrors off the rush in the draft, and can beat defenders wide seemingly at ease.

He has breakaway speed, able to beat defenders to loose pucks and create real separation from backcheckers.

Notice how easily he’s able to slice through the neutral zone in the clip above. The explosiveness of each crossover is apparent as he accelerates from blueline to blueline; the Swede generates, for my money, the most power crossing over of any prospect in this class. Mechanically, he’s about as close to perfect as it gets. Even just in the thumbnail of the video above, you can see how loaded Raymond is on his leading leg as he comes out from behind his own net.

Where Stützle makes up some ground is through his agility and edgework. The German moves extremely well laterally and can seemingly quite literally turn on a dime. He is unequivocally one of the shiftiest forwards in the draft class, and has a natural gift for sneaking around defenders in one-on-one scenarios that just a select few others can challenge (Raymond, interestingly enough, being one of them). Stützle is also one of the more creative and confident skaters I’ve seen, completely unafraid to take unorthodox routes and go against the grain in how he moves with the puck. He can make high skill manoeuvres in tight spaces appear easy, and is more than willing to hold onto and attempt to shake off defenders over longer periods of possession than we often see.

The spin to lose the defender in the clip above is a perfect display of that creativity and agility. The video below shows several instances of Stützle stopping and changing direction in short order to hold off a defender:

And these next two plays exhibit how Stützle can move laterally to step around forecheckers in transition, and utilize tight turns to shake defenders and create space for himself in the offensive zone.

Now, this focus on his lateral agility and quickness isn’t to undermine Stützle’s straight-line speed. The German moves very well himself linearly, just not to the extent of Raymond. He isn’t going to blaze through the neutral zone and catch defenders off guard like Raymond can, and is unlikely to push defenders back and create real frontwards space for himself with his speed alone, but Stützle is an above-average skater that can create separation from backcheckers off the rush. The second gear he finds in the first clip here to cut straight to the net is nothing short of exceptional:

Still, I’m going to award this category to Raymond. For my money, he’s the best skater in the entirety of the draft. We saw him motoring end-to-end in some of the clips of above— his crossovers and skating mechanics belong in some sort of hockey shrine devoted to near-perfection, and he’ll be an absolute terror through transition and off the rush at the NHL-level. Stützle’s small-area quickness and creativity to shake off defenders is a meaningful space-creating trait, but Raymond projects to contribute elite-level transitional value through high success rates on controlled zone entries and exits and can create plenty of space himself with his speed through the neutral zone and ability to generate odd-man opportunities.

Puck Control

I’d say it’s quite apparent that Raymond and Stützle are two of the best puck handlers in the draft. We saw the quickness and creativity of Stützle’s hands in the clip from Pavel Barber earlier, while Raymond has made similar headlines with highlight-reel goals like this one:

Both players have terrific command of the puck on their stick and have a wide variety of moves in their respective arsenals. When they have space to dangle, both are terrifying one-on-one opponents that can embarrass defenders. Both players are relatively slight– Raymond especially at 5’10’, 165 lbs, but Stützle isn’t exactly a physical presence either at 6’0″/187 lbs— so the question becomes how well can they handle themselves with a defender right up against them.

Stützle, with his quick stops and starts and high-end small-area quickness, is well equipped to maintain possession in the corners and around the net. We saw him hold off a defender right on his back with a series of quick changes of direction earlier on, and that’s a repeatable skill that should translate to the NHL level. Defenders are typically able to keep him to the outside, and he doesn’t have that real “lose the defender and penetrate the slot” ability that a bigger, explosive player like Quinton Byfield has, but he can keep the opposition at bay for long enough to find the time to make a play with the puck.

Raymond is quite similar in this aspect: he can stop, start, and change direction quite quickly, allowing him to navigate higher-density areas of the ice without giving up possession. From what I’ve seen, Stützle is more prone to extending possessions via use of his small-area quickness than Raymond, who would prefer to avoid those situations altogether and move the puck to open teammates as a first instinct. But plays like this one– a quick turn to create time for a cross-ice pass to his defenceman– allow Raymond to avoid situations where he would likely lose a physical battle and are very much part of the Swedish forward’s arsenal:

Raymond can also escape defenders and create time for himself in transition, like he does here in this clip from the 2018 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup:

I’m going to have to declare this category a tie: both players own some of the best hands in the draft and have the quickness/agility to navigate crowded ice without conceding possession despite average to below-average physical stature. Both Raymond and Stützle are legitimate blow-by threats in one-on-one attacking scenarios off the rush. I would say Stützle has the superior small-area quickness and agility, but neither player has the size or physical prowess to penetrate the inside of the ice in the settings where those tools would be useful and are limited to simply buying time to find a passing option, so it’s largely inconsequential in this context.

Scoring

The next two categories are scoring and playmaking, so first let’s get a feel for the types of attackers that Raymond and Stützle are. Stützle is a playmaker– he had twice as many primary assists as goals this year– while Raymond is much more of a dual-threat attacker with equal quantities of goals and primary assists in the SHL. So already, it would appear that Raymond is more talented as a scorer, since that’s more of his forte. And that assumption checks out: Raymond is a very talented shooter while Stützle is always going to be an instinctual pass-first player.

Armed with a quick drag-and-fire snapshot, Raymond has shown a consistent ability to beat goaltenders from anywhere within the slot area. His shot isn’t overly powerful, but he owns a fast, deceptive release and pinpoint accuracy. He’s a versatile scorer, able to shoot from dense pockets through sticks and bodies. The dragging motion of his release in particular allows him to shoot around pokechecks and use defenders as a screen:

He can receive a pass, quickly maneuver the puck into a shooting position and get it on goal, although he doesn’t always show a lot of strength on the shot when he’s shooting in this manner.

Raymond also has an excellent one-timer. He’s not a top-of-the-circle sniper like Ovechkin or Stamkos, instead finding soft pockets of space in the slot and teeing off on passes from behind the net.

Stützle doesn’t have the same dual-threat versatility as an attacker or scorer. He managed 5.13 shots/60 in the DEL, compared to Raymond’s 5.94 shots/60 in a more competitive league and less offensive role. His shot is still a scoring threat, but his somewhat awkward, off-kilter release isn’t nearly as versatile or deceptive as Raymond’s. Here he is picking the top corner on a screened goalie:

He’s more of a finesse scorer, picking his spots carefully and beating the goalie via accuracy, not power. He still shows solid scoring touch and can find space in the slot for high-danger shots. Stützle’s preference is to facilitate as a distributor more so from the perimeter rather than attacking the slot looking for scoring chances himself– not that he’s incapable of penetrating the slot, it’s just less frequent.

Raymond shoots more, has a more deceptive release, and is considerably more versatile as a scorer. I think Raymond could hover around 30 goals at the NHL-level, whereas scoring will be much more of a secondary trait for Stützle (I would expect around 15-20 goals a year).

Playmaking

Similar to puck skills, Stützle and Raymond share a variety of similar attributes as playmakers. Both players are exceptional at finding teammates in the slot with difficult passes from the wings. They both have excellent awareness and vision and appear to be very in tune with their linemates at all times, targeting their teammates in motion with high rates of success.

We didn’t get to see much of Raymond on the powerplay with Frölunda, but Stützle has shown a bevy of playmaking skill on the powerplay over the course of the season. He’s very mobile, keeping his feet moving and forcing the defence to frequently adapt to his position.

He can spot cross-ice seams and play the puck through sticks and bodies for dangerous opportunities.

He’s similarly effective at even-strength, using his vision to set up his teammates for great opportunities. The play he pulls off here is one of my favourite in the entire sport– it takes either an elite playmaker with incredible vision and touch or a tremendous deal of luck to pull that one off. I think it’s quite clear which of those it is here.

Raymond is similarly talented. When Frölunda finally gave him some powerplay time, he rewarded them with this beautiful no-look touch pass for a primary assist.

He can create lanes with his skating ability, displaying incredible patience with the puck and waiting for lanes to open up.

And here’s a terrific cross-ice, back-door connection from one of the nine games Raymond played in the U20 SuperElit this season.

This one is incredibly close as well, but I think Stützle will be the superior playmaker at the NHL level. He has incredible vision and touch and rarely fails to find an open teammate right around the net. He has more of a pass-first mentality than Raymond does, and I expect that he’ll wrack up more assists, shot assists, and dangerous opportunities created through his passing in the NHL.

Summary:

To summarize: Raymond is the better skater and scorer; Stützle is the incrementally better playmaker; and the pair have equally exceptional puck skills. Ultimately, I would expect Raymond to be the more valuable NHL contributor– he has 80+ point upside and projects to be one of the best players in the entire NHL at bringing the puck through the neutral zone. Stützle isn’t far behind though, and has some distinct strengths of his own: particularly his creativity with the puck and outstanding value on the man advantage. Any debate between the two is very much warranted, and it will be incredibly interesting to track who ends up going 3rd overall at the draft (my money is on Stützle, even if I expect Raymond to eventually outperform him at the NHL level). For both players, it’s their ability to handle the puck at elite levels at high speeds that will make them high-end contributors. What will ultimately separate them will be how they’re able to adapt to tighter defences that are more capable of matching their speed. Both players transitioned very well to professional levels of hockey, so it’s really too early to tell.

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