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Julian Lutz out to prove that Coyotes got a draft-day steal

Craig Morgan Avatar
September 18, 2022

The draft-day steal. Every NHL team wants to believe that each pick it makes after the first round will one day earn that label. 

Scouts log endless hours on the road, watching live games, watching video, analyzing data and talking to myriad sources in those prospects’ lives in an effort to properly gauge their potential and character. 

The NHL Draft is a calculated gamble, however. No matter how much time scouts and managers invest, they are still betting on 17- and 18-year-old kids who have an enormous amount of physical, mental and psychological growth ahead of them. Only about half of the players who are drafted will even play one NHL game, and the percentages drop more precipitously for players who reach the 100-game mark.

It gets even more complicated when a player suffers an injury during his draft year, limiting or eliminating scouting of live games at that critical juncture of evaluation. That was the case with Coyotes 2022 second-round (No. 43) draft pick Julian Lutz.

Before Lutz’s first pro season in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (the highest pro division in Germany), he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower spine. The injury forced a lengthy rehab of about five months and limited him to 14 games with Munich EHC.

“It was probably the toughest year I’ve ever had,” said Lutz, who is competing for the Coyotes in the Rookie Faceoff tournament in San Jose. “Obviously, I had high expectations going into my first pro season and then getting injured right away, before the season even started, was really disappointing.

“I had some issues before. It was probably from (lifting) too much weight at a young age. I could have told them earlier that I had problems with my back, but it was the beginning of the season and I wanted to [push] through it and I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal. It turned out that it was a bigger deal.”

While Lutz was engaged in “a lot of therapy, a lot of biking, a lot of swimming, and a lot of core work,” Coyotes central European scout Teal Fowler was busy convincing Arizona’s staff that Lutz was worthy of a high pick.

“Julian and I go back to my days in Mannheim,” said Fowler, who lives in Heidelberg and was Mannheim’s coach and GM in the DEL until 2018 when he joined the Coyotes. “He made a decision early in his professional career to go to the Salzburg academy, which is quite a hockey factory. Having Red Bull investing resources, investing time, and paying the best coaches has made that a really solid program and it is really growing in stature in Europe for its development of junior-age players.”

The Red Bull Akademie across the border in Austria has produced several NHL prospects in the past four years including New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson (12th overall in 2018), Colorado Avalanche forward Sampo Ranta (78th overall in 2018), Buffalo Sabres forward JJ Peterka (34th overall in 2020) and Lutz’s Munich and Rookie Faceoff teammate, Maksymilian Szuber (163rd overall in 2022).

“Julian was and continues to be one of the prospects that professional teams inside of Germany have been waiting for,” Fowler said. “With his play at the under-15, under-16 and under-17 levels, he is the top gun; the top prospect in that class. Any time you have these types of players come on the radar in Germany, guys like Timmy Stützle and JJ Peterka, it’s for a reason. Julian has separated himself from his peers at the national level.

“He has a strong foundation of the skill set which is needed to play in the NHL. He can handle the puck, his skating is good enough and for him being the kind of a guy that has these offensive skill sets, he’s still committed to playing without the puck. There’s a certain level of competitiveness to his game where if he loses the puck, he’s on it. For us, that’s what was attractive; his willingness, his compete level without the puck. This kid wants the puck, he needs the puck, and he’s going to do anything he can to get the puck back and make plays.”

Being a scout by trade, Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong understood the gamble that the Coyotes were taking with Lutz, but Armstrong is also a proponent of trusting his scouts. Fowler helped the Coyotes land JJ Moser and Karel Vejmelka and the scouting staff had other eyeballs on Lutz after Fowler’s recommendation.

“It’s obviously hard to get a full read on a player when he’s hurt,” Armstrong said. “I’ve always felt like there was great risk with it, but there can also be great reward. Sometimes, you do get that steal; sometimes they don’t work out quite as well. 

“With Julian, he showed signs of what he could do. [Associate director of amateur scouting] Ryan [Jankowski] and those guys keep track of the underagers and sometimes, when players get injured in their draft, you have to rely on your under-age viewing and you have to rely on your sources. If Julian is 100 percent healthy this year, he can have a great year over there and really kind of set the tone for his career.”

Julian Lutz of EHC Red Bull Munich and Spencer Machacek of Grizzlys Wolfsburg battle for the puck during a DEL game at Eis Arena Wolfsburg on March 20, 2022 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Getty Images)

The plan for Lutz is to return to Munich this season and hopefully log a full season. He is also expected to compete for Germany at the World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

When he does return to Munich, he’ll have plenty of NHL mentorship waiting for him. Munich coach Don Jackson won a pair of Cups with Edmonton as a player in 1984 and 1985. Lutz’ teammate, Ben Smith, was with the Chicago Blackhawks organization from 2008 to 2015, a period in which Chicago advanced to five Western Conference finals and won three Cups.

“My job over the last few years and dating back to my last year in North America with the Toronto Marlies has really been trying to help these kids develop,” Smith said. “I’ve always taken an interest in that, and a lot of it’s just been through positive encouragement and pointing things out when I see them, but also helping them find that confidence where they’re willing to and able to play freely.”

Smith first met Lutz at training camp last season in Smith’s first season with Munich. Lutz, then 17, came right up to Smith and introduced himself, which Smith thought was a mature step for a rookie.

“He would have been an important player for us if he had played the whole year and had that year to develop and grow,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, he was coming back later in the year. At that point, it’s tougher to jump in the lineup and have a big impact, but you can see that he’s highly skilled and he’s fast and he works hard. 

“In practice, you see him going 100 miles an hour and he seems to think the game at a level that I certainly don’t. Now it’s just about continuing to develop where he’s executing every time and making a smart play because he has a talent that will take over and an ability to read the game so when he’s executing at that speed, he’s going to be very dangerous and he’ll be able to have a big impact at a very high level.”

Lutz said he has learned how to take care of his body and the Coyotes have no concerns about the back issue rearing its head again. Playing in Germany another season will give his parents the opportunity to see him for another season, a benefit that is not lost on Lutz.

“They moved from Ravensburg to Salzburg to help me continue my dream of playing hockey so I could play in a better organization,” said Lutz. “They sacrificed a lot and they’re really proud so they want to push me to keep going forward.”

Armstrong admits that Lutz is raw, with a lot of development ahead of him, but the Coyotes are not the only ones who think Lutz might have greater potential than his draft status suggests.

“I really like Lutz,” TSN analyst and scout Craig Button said. “I think he’s unique with his blend of skill and power. He very well could have been a first-round pick in my opinion, but I also look at first-round picks as those selected between 21 and 45. Why? Because teams have players ranked differently and most players drafted in that range were ranked by teams in their individual first round. They didn’t have a pick but still thought of players in that respect.”

Lutz figures that it will take some time to shake off the rust after playing so little hockey over the past year. While he admits that it would have been cool to hear his name on day one of the draft in Montréal this summer, he insists that he has put that wish behind him.

“It doesn’t matter if I got drafted in the first, second, third or whatever round,” he said. “I’m just happy that I’m part of this organization in Arizona. I don’t know exactly the age when I started dreaming about getting drafted and playing in the NHL, but it was really early. I never wanted to do anything else. I didn’t want to play football [soccer] or any other sport. The NHL was my goal and I’ve been working for it since day one.”

Top photo of Lutz via Getty Images

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