Lone Star sniper: Thriving Noesen gets chance to impress Senators brass

Like his contemporaries, Stefan Noesen had been hoping to make a firsthand impression on the Ottawa Senators during training camp.

Lone Star sniper: Thriving Noesen gets chance to impress Senators brass
(Rena Laverty/Plymouth Whalers)

Like his contemporaries, Stefan Noesen had been hoping to make a firsthand impression on the Ottawa Senators during training camp.

With fellow prospects Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, and Matt Puempel, not to mention Shane Prince and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, all looking to crack the Ottawa lineup over the next year or two, competition was certain to be tough.

The 19-year-old Noesen has been to two development camps since being taken in the first round (21st overall) of the 2011 draft, so he’s a familiar face around Scotiabank Place.

Nonetheless, with Stone, Zibanejad, and Silfverberg slated to be either in Ottawa or Binghamton this season, a year ahead of him, Noesen especially wanted to leave the Senators a personal forget-me-not before heading back to the Plymouth Whalers for his final year of junior hockey.

The lockout quashed that plan, obviously, but Plan B is going just fine.

Noesen, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound left wing, is doing a pretty good job of attracting attention during the first month of the Ontario Hockey League schedule, leading the Whalers in scoring with 12 goals and six assists (before Wednesday’s game in Saginaw).

That start is not only his best in his four years at Plymouth, it also has him on pace to score more goals than assists for the first time. That has him scratching his head a bit, since he has always regarded himself as more of a playmaker than a scorer.

Last season he had 38 goals and 44 assists, and the year before he had 34 goals and 43 assists.

So having twice as many goals as assists, even though it is early in the season, is a novel feeling.

“I’m not complaining, but I’m not used to it,” he said in an interview this week.

“I was talking to my coach (Mike Vellucci) the other day, and he said, ‘Why do you see yourself as a playmaker?’

“I said, ‘I don’t know — I thought that was my role.’ And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you look at yourself as a goal scorer, too?’”

Vellucci, also the team’s president and general manager, figures everything will even out as the season progresses.

“He’s still making the same plays, the same passes,” he said.

“He thinks the game as well as anyone I’ve ever had.

“It’s not as if he’s shooting any more. His linemates (Rickard Rakell and Tom Wilson) have just been unlucky. Goalies have been making great saves.

“And our power play has been pretty bleak, too, so that hasn’t helped. We’re getting a lot of chances but just not converting.

“I think it’s just one of those things. And it’s early, too.

“So I suspect by the end of the year he’ll once again have more assists than goals.”

Noesen will finally get his chance to audition for Ottawa brain trust when the Whalers visit Scotiabank Place on Sunday for an afternoon game against the Ottawa 67’s.

You can be sure that general manager Bryan Murray and his top deputy, assistant general manager Tim Murray, will be all eyes.

In this age of the salary cap, teams can’t afford to miss with their first-round picks. So they’ll will be anxious to see if Noesen is on the path to fulfilling those expectations.

The team is already high on him, however. In an interview with the Citizen earlier this week, Tim Murray said “only a bolt of lightning would keep him off” the U.S. world junior team.

Noesen is the type of player the scouting staff is charged with looking for: A tough, determined competitor who can help the team win, since that, obviously, is the bottom line in the NHL.

And that, said Vellucci, is Noesen’s strong suit. He wants the puck.

“Sometimes he gets too into it, winning at all costs, but it’s definitely a great asset to have,” said Vellucci.

“He wants to count and he wants to be counted on. He wants to make the big hit, score the big goal, make the big play.”

On the day of Noesen’s draft, the caution flags were that his strength and conditioning had to improve, as well as his skating. He needed to spend some time in the gym, and add some speed to his skating, especially off the mark. Doing work like that requires that the player make a commitment, and some players never really get it, never understand the level of conditioning and strength needed to play in the NHL.

But everywhere Noesen turned, he got the same message.

He heard it from director of player personnel Randy Lee at the two development camps. He heard it from Vellucci.

He could see fellow draftees Stone and Mark Borowiecki turn themselves from late-round picks into NHL players through hard work.

And he heard it every day during his summer workouts with Dallas Star defenceman Trevor Daley.

A native of the Dallas, Tex., suburb of Plano, Noesen grew up under the Stars’ influence.

Over the years, he has worked out with a number of players in the organization and credits them for helping him find the level of maturity he needed to have to be a player in the OHL.

Daley has helped him chart a path to the NHL.

“We’d have a sit-down after working out just about every day, and he’d tell me what I needed to work on and how you have to do the little things if you want to play in the NHL,” said Noesen.

“Being around NHL coaches and players, it makes you want to bear down and work harder. No one wants to be just a good NHL player. Everyone wants to be a great NHL player.

“You don’t want to have a career that only lasts five years. You want one that lasts for 10 years, or 12 years.

“To do that you have to look at the great ones and see what they do.”

Vellucci agrees Noesen has grown and matured, but cautions there’s a long way to go, that the process is ongoing.

“When he first came here (conditioning and strength) was a big area of concern, but in the summer between 16 and 17, he worked a lot harder,” said Vellucci.

“He understood what it took to play in the OHL.

“But like any kid, he still has to take it to the next level. It’s one thing to be in shape for junior, it’s another to be in shape for the pros, and that’s what I’m trying to teach all my players.”

There have been some personal disappointments.

While some of his future Ottawa teammates (Stone, Zibanejad, Fredrik Claesson, and Jakub Culek) and present Plymouth teammates (Dario Trutman, Scott Wedgewood, J.T. Miller, and Richard Rakell) were playing for their countries in the 2012 world juniors, Noesen was unaccountably snubbed by the U.S.

It bothered him then and still bothers him.

“I’ve put it to the back of my mind,” he said. “But it’s still there.”

As it turns out, the U.S. could have probably used him. The team ended up in the relegation round for the first time since 1999 and had to beat Switzerland and Latvia to advance to the 2013 world juniors.

Noesen used the snub as motivation and had his best season ever, and this time around, there’s a good chance that he’ll be on the 2013 team.

U.S. scouts have been to some of his recent games, a couple which, by his own admission, have been “stinkers.” Still, it’s difficult to ignore a player who is getting a point a game.

So he has his fingers crossed but is only modestly hoping that “maybe they’ll take me along as a second- or third-line guy.”

How the Senators squeeze all these young offensive players into the lineup — and even whether they all pan out as anticipated — will be one of the more interesting stories over the coming seasons.

While players such as Stone and Puempel will earn their livings by scoring goals, Vellucci sees Noesen’s value in being an all-purpose player.

“To me, if you’re going to play in the NHL, you have to get in the door first, and Stef can break in as a third- or fourth-line guy because he can do other things than be a goal scorer,” said Vellucci.

“He can play on the penalty kill, he’s good defensively, and he understands the game. He sees the game real well.

“He can give a coach some really good minutes on the third or fourth lines, and eventually I think he can graduate to be a second-line guy.

“But that’s going to take maturity, conditioning, and strength — all those things.”

Noesen’s not worried about the pressure he’ll face when he does get to training camp next season, nor about the competition he’ll face.

He, and Stone, Zibanejad, and Puempel, have been to development camps together or played against each other for years, and they are all friends.

They know they each have to make their own way on to the team.

“I’m my own kind of player,” said Noesen.

“Pumps — he’s a goal scorer and he works hard. Stoner — he’s one of a kind. He’s a goal scorer and everything else. I see myself as more versatile. And it’s all about what the team needs. We all bring different things to the table.

“It’s going to be a great competition, but that’s the whole point of it, for it to be a great competition.

“I don’t see it as pressure. I see it more as a goal.”

Twitter.com/allenpanzeri2

Tags: , ,

What do you think? Leave a comment