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Are More German Players in the Red Wings’ Future?

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It might not just be Tim Stützle.

Pyeongchang 2018 - Ice Hockey Photo by Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

Germany has long been one of those countries worth watching in international hockey. They are surrounded by countries who are passionate about the sport. If the Czechs and Swiss can develop NHL caliber talent every year, it becomes easy to wonder if or when Germany, the most populous country wholly within Europe, might begin producing players capable of surviving and thriving in the North American pro league. The country is so soccer football crazy, but surely a country with eight times as many inhabitants as Sweden in a relatively cold climate could drum up some interest in ice hockey, so the thinking goes.

In 2014, Edmonton drafted Leon Draisaitl, who looks to become the best German player to ever skate, and in 2018 it seemed Germany’s rising star in the hockey world was confirmed when they took home the silver medal in the Winter Olympics, losing to the Olympic Athletes from Russia. Before the game, fans and analysts were wondering if this was to be a “German Miracle on Ice,” at least in the English-speaking world. I was among those disappointed Germany didn’t win, but there seems to be a buzz about German hockey now that didn’t exist five years ago.

Indeed, the top German league, the DEL, is better than many give it credit for. It is roughly on par with the Finnish Liiga, yet it gets little of the buzz that Liiga (deservedly) receives. The league also features high proportions of North Americans in many roles and draws average crowds similar in size to the top CHL and NCAA teams.

The Wings made a somewhat surprising pick in the 2019 draft when they selected the DEL’s Moritz Seider, a player the organization had its eye on for at least most of the season. He racked up 2 goals and 22 assists in 49 games with the Griffins this past season in his first year in North America. For a fanbase still living in the dizzying shadow of Nick Lidstrom’s career and hasn’t seen a true number 1 defenseman wear the Winged Wheel since Nik Kronwall’s younger days the better part of a decade ago, Moritz Seider is the latest blueline prospect to inspire hope of turning the defensive corps around.

With a miserable season behind the organization, the Red Wings have their best draft odds since draft odds became a thing, but because the Sharks traded their first round pick (plus other parts) to Ottawa for Erik Karlsson and then proceeded to be a terrible team despite having a generational defenseman, the Sens have better odds of winning the 1st overall pick and QMJHL superstar Alexis Lafrenière than the Wings.

This is where German phenom Tim Stützle may come into play. The 18-year old winger/center plays for Adler Mannheim, Seider’s old club, and if taken second overall will be the highest drafted German ever. There is a good argument for taking Quinton Byfield over Stützle, but if he is the guy the Wings want then that only helps the uncertainty of the draft created by the draft odds. Stützle may be the smoothest skater in the draft, which fits in well with the way the Red Wings have liked to play this season (on the rare occasions they have been the ones to dictate play.) His play-making abilities are top notch and most scouts consider him to have potential to be a franchise center even though he played on the left wing for most of this year in the DEL. I am willing to wager he was placed on the wing because he was a teenager playing against fully matured players in Germany’s highest league, much like Larkin was put on Zetterberg’s wing in his first season, but I can’t find information to confirm this. It is worth noting he did center Germany’s top line at World Juniors this year.

But even if the Red Wings pass on Stützle or don’t get the chance to draft him, there are other Germans that could be draft targets with Detroit’s second round pick. Forward Lukas Reichel is a forward who racked up 24 points (12G, 12A) playing in the DEL last season for Eisbären Berlin. John-Jason Peterka collected 11 points (7G, 4A) as a forward for the DEL’s EHC München. Both players are rated to go somewhere from the late first through early second round and have top-six potential, although Detroit’s needs at other positions may prevent them from taking two forwards with their first two picks.

The Red Wings forming a German-Five has been joked about and kicked around before, hearkening back to the Russian-Five of those halcyon days in the 90’s. The Russian players were in a very unique situation in a time before the internet had become widespread, making them unknowns in a way no draft-eligible player ever will be again, and that magic just cannot be recreated. However, the reason behind the Russian-Five’ existence is the Red Wings’ ability to exploit an inefficiency in the draft and perhaps now Germany and the DEL represent an inefficiency that can be exploited to Detroit’s benefit.

And of course, Detroit has been well known to be a home for players of different nationalities over the past thirty years. First, it was a destination for Russian players, then for Swedish players. Other teams have become homes for other nationalities as well. Drafting from the DEL isn’t the only way for Detroit to return to relevancy, but it is one possible avenue worth thinking about in the long dark of these hockey-less times.