RALEIGH — The ties between the Plymouth Whalers and the Carolina Hurricanes run deep.
Stefan Noesen is looking to keep the bloodline going.
Noesen was born in Texas but headed north to pursue tougher competition as a teenager, landing in Detroit to play for the Compuware youth team in 2007. That team was founded by Peter Karmanos Jr., who at the time was also the owner of both the Ontario Hockey League’s Whalers and NHL’s Hurricanes.
“On our Compuware jersey we had the Hurricanes patch and the Whalers patch,” Noesen said.
Coming through the Compuware-to-Plymouth pipeline often meant winding up in Raleigh. From former executives and coaches like Jim Rutherford and Paul Maurice to players as remembered as Justin Williams and forgotten as Jonas Fiedler, the path to the Hurricanes often came through Karmanos’ two youth teams.
After two seasons in Plymouth, Noesen was drafted by the Senators in 2011, going 21st overall. He played two more years with the Whalers, totaling 100 goals and 220 points in 215 career OHL games and then had his rights traded to the Anaheim Ducks.
That began a winding career for the 29-year-old, who has now suited up for six NHL teams but only once played more than 41 games in a season — scoring 13 goals and 27 points in 72 games with the Devils in 2017-18.
He finally found his way to the Hurricanes organization last year, signing a one-year, two-way deal to provide depth for the big club and also veteran talent with the team’s top affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
But even he didn’t expect to score an AHL-high 48 goals.
“I would like to say yes. … I scored quite a bit and juniors,” Noesen said. “So I kind of knew it was always in there.”
He followed that with nine goals and 25 points in Chicago’s run to the Calder Cup.
“Last year was great,” he said. “We obviously did our thing down there. We won.”
Despite getting into just two games with the Hurricanes during the year, he decided to re-sign with Carolina. He’s guaranteed a total of at least $1.325 million over the next two seasons, regardless of if he’s in Raleigh or Chicago.
“I maybe had a chance to go somewhere else,” Noesen said, “but I thought this organization, the way that they play and everything — this is where I wanted to be.”
He also made an impression on Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour.
“He did a great job throughout the organization because when he came up he played well, and then when he went back down he was a leader for that group,” Brind’Amour said. “And when you have a veteran player that can show the way for guys like Jack Drury, for the guys that were down there, I think that’s a huge asset.
“He obviously put up a big, big year, and we’re gonna give him every opportunity here to see what he can do.”
With defenseman Jake Gardiner headed to long-term injured reserve, Carolina has some cap space and won’t have to carry a light roster as they did at times last season. That means a chance for a player like Noesen who knows how to play the role of bottom-six winger in the NHL — he’s logged 207 games, scoring 31 goals and 54 points over nine seasons — but also showcased his scoring touch with the Wolves last year.
“I think the way that I score goals, it’s not pretty,” Noesen said. “I’ll take one off the teeth. I took one off the mouth a few times and they’ve gone in, and that’s just it’s kind of my game. I’m never gonna dazzle and be flashy. Maybe I’ll have a sporadic one here and there, but it’s all in the blue paint, all within the house, and it’s been like that ever since junior.”
Noesen will also be a familiar face for the organization’s young players, whether that’s with the Hurricanes or the Wolves.
“Just watching his habits on the ice, how he scores goals,” Drury said, “he goes to the net a lot, was really good in front. So I learned a lot from him last year.”
And it’s not just in the offensive zone.
“He’s got skill, but he’s able to kind of do it all,” said another Wolves teammate, Jamieson Rees. “So for young guys to kind of look at that and see that it’s OK if you’re not a skill guy, you have to be versatile. You have to be able to open up and be ready for whatever situation is being thrown at you.”
Battling for one of the last spots on an NHL roster is a familiar situation for Noesen. But 15 years after he first pulled on a Compuware sweater with the small Hurricanes patch on it, he is close to fulfilling his destiny.
“I kind of took the long way to get here,” Noesen said, “but eventually I got here.”