Forward Stefan Noesen isn’t like a lot of the players the Pittsburgh Penguins have promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the past several seasons. He’s not going to burst onto the scene like Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel or Sam Lafferty.
Neither is Noesen going to step onto the ice Wednesday night for a national broadcast game against the St. Louis Blues with wide eyes and an iron grip on his stick.
Noesen, summoned as the Penguins’ ridiculous string of injuries continues, is more of a known commodity. The 26-year-old was a first-round pick by Ottawa in 2011. He has played in 159 NHL games with Anaheim and New Jersey, with 24 goals, 45 points.
There is a confidence in Noesen that seems a little different from some of the players who have been called up from the American Hockey League with little to no NHL experience. In fact, Noesen considered himself something of a mentor while in Wilkes-Barre.
“Honestly, one of the big things down there was just trying to get some of these young guys to understand the pro game,” he said, adding that he found Wilkes-Barre to have a supportive atmosphere where the players keep close watch on the parent club and those who get called up. He said there was a watch party there when Lafferty first got called up and made his NHL debut.
Another big thing for Noesen, of course, was to prove himself all over again, and to show that he was healthy. A couple of major knee injuries have stunted his progress, including one last season that limited him to 41 games and perhaps swayed the Devils not to extend a qualifying offer to him, making him a free agent.
He was on an AHL contract as he racked up 14 goals, 22 points to lead Wilkes-Barre in both categories. He spent a lot of time on a line with Andrew Agozzino and Sam Miletic.
The Penguins scrambled to get him signed to an NHL deal on Monday, and he was in practice Tuesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Noesen jumped right in, manning the right wing on the second line with Alex Galchenyuk and Jared McCann and working the net-front with the top power play unit.
“It’s hard to assess after one practice, but, obviously the reports have been very positive. He’s been really good in Wilkes-Barre,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “This is something that our management team has been talking about for a little while now. He’s one of the leading scorers in the league down there. He has NHL experience. We think he’s a guy that can help us.”
Noesen believes that, too. He just had to convince the hockey world.
When offers were sparse over the summer, he accepted a tryout to attend training camp with the Dallas Stars. Noesen is from Plano, Texas. But he didn’t get signed by the Stars and accepted the minor-league deal with the Penguins – an opportunity helped along by his former junior coach Mike Vellucci, now the first-year coach and general manager in Wilkes-Barre.
“The whole goal was to get back in the NHL,” Noesen said. “We thought we had a chance to do it in the summer. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. Never really been in a situation like this.”
But playing in the AHL wasn’t drudgery.
“It’s fun. You can actually have fun playing hockey,” he said. “You get to play your game and find some confidence. So now here we are.”