German-born prospects in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League have been a rare breed in recent years. When the Saint John Sea Dogs selected Felix Schutz in the 2005 CHL Import Draft, it was unclear how he would adapt to the more up-tempo style of play, given a lack of dominant precedents set by German players in the league, particularly as he was joining an expansion team. Schutz, however, made a relatively seamless transition to the North American game, relying on his strong skill set to provide offensive leadership, taking his young team on his shoulders in his rookie season, picking up 52 points as an 18-year-old.
After having been drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, it was hoped that the German prospect, who had improved his stock mightily in his first North American season, would return to the Sea Dogs as a leader yet again, in the hopes of leading the second-year team into the playoffs. A solid camp with the Sabres led to heightened expectations. Upon his return to the QMJHL, though, he has struggled to get going offensively, sitting seventh in team points with six in 10 games.
Hockey’s Future talked to Schutz about his recent situation, career and future expectations.
HF: You were invited to join your first Buffalo Sabres training camp last month. What were your impressions of it?
FS: Well it was really impressive to play in that great arena, with all the NHL stars of the Sabres.
HF: Was there any separation between the established NHL players and the young minor and junior league prospects?
FS: No there wasn’t, we were fully integrated into the training. I played together with Maxim Afinogenov, Chris Drury and other NHL players. All the players were treated as part of the Buffalo Sabres organization and that was a real good feeling. The camp was really a great experience for me.
HF: Were you satisfied with your performance at the camp and did you get any feedback on it?
FS: There was a feedback-interview with everyone that joined the camp. They seemed to be quite happy with what they have seen, but they told me that I have to work hard on improving my strength and stamina, but of course I did already know that and I try to work as hard as possible to improve here.
HF: What have you done between the end of the 2005-06 and the beginning of the 2006-07 QMJHL season?
FS: I went home to my family in Erding (near Munich), but there wasn’t much time to spend there, because I was invited to join the German National Team and played the World Championships Div I tournament with it. After the tournament I had some time for my family and friends, before returning to North America for the QMJHL season preparations and the Buffalo Sabres training camp.
HF: Since it’s your second season with the Saint John Sea Dogs now, did you feel that there are higher expectations and more pressure on you now?
FS: That’s really true. When I came over here I was 18 years old and was just playing my game. Nowadays I sometimes feel that everyone expects me to score five goals per game, but I give that pressure to myself as well; I just want to play perfect every game and show what I am able to perform. Sometimes I am just not happy with my performance, because I know that I can do better and that gives me even higher motivation for the next game.
HF: How was it when you heard that you were nominated for the German National Team?
FS: Uwe Krupp was calling my home and my mother was talking to him. I was quite surprised because I only played in Canada last season, but he invited me to some tests and was pleased with my performance. Therefore he invited me to take part into the 2006 IIHF World Championship Div I tournament in France, where we took the win and qualified for the 2007 World Cup in Moscow.
HF: Most European players say that the hockey in North America is completely different from that they are used from Europe, have you had the same experience?
FS: Oh yes it definitely is! The hockey here is much faster and the technical standard is a different one than in Europe.
HF: So was it hard for you to get used to that North American hockey?
FS: Well I just had to improve my game to perform well in the QMJHL, but to come over here was the best decision I could make. Although I am only 19 years old now I can say that it has changed my life. When I played in Germany some people said that I am leaning back on my talent. From the moment I arrived in North America on I learned that I need to work hard to make my way over here. I now try to improve my game step-by-step every day and I always want to give 100 percent.
HF: What does your future hold?
FS: I will stay here probably for another two years and see what happens next summer in the Sabres camp. I am proud that the Sabres selected me and will do my best to play NHL hockey for them anytime in the future.
HF: Couldn’t you earn more money at the DEL (German Elite League)?
FS: If I would play for ERC Ingolstadt I would earn more money, but at that point of my career money is not the most important factor. I am very happy to play with the Sea Dogs. The team, the coaches and the operation staff is really great and I am living with a wonderful guest family.
Phil Laugher contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.