|Texas native Stefan Noesen sports a wide grin after the Senators made him the 21st overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images).
From deep in the heart of Texas to Canada's capital ... what a hockey journey it has already been, indeed, for Stefan Noesen
But when the Ottawa Senators made the 18-year-old centre the 21st overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, it validated the decision Noesen made two years earlier to leave home to chase his biggest hockey dreams.
But make no mistake about it — Noesen came by his love of the game while he was still at home in Plano, Tex., with the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars playing a big hand in it.
"I fell in love with the game through the Stars," Noesen told TSN, a smile on his face as he sat in his first Senators jersey. "My great grandpa was Canadian, so he kind of showed me the ropes a little bit, took me to a Stars game and after that, it’s history."
At 14, Noesen moved to Michigan to play in the famed Detroit Compuware minor midget program. That eventually led him to the Plymouth Whalers and the Ontario Hockey League, for whom he scored 34 goals and 77 points in 68 games in 2010-11. That was a mighty leap from the three goals and eight points he scored in 33 games as a rookie.
"It was a very big learning experience," Noesen said about the adjustment to the OHL. "My first year was pretty rough. I had a lot of ups and downs, but I knew what I had to do to get better this year. I knew I had to mature as an individual, so once I took care of the off-ice stuff, the on-ice stuff started clicking.
"My overall strength is something I really needed to improve on, along with my skating. Those two pretty much go hand in hand and I needed to mature a lot as a person. Once I started maturing and was able to be a grownup, I guess you could say, I was able to produce numbers on the ice."
At 6-0 and 195 pounds, Noesen has drawn comparisons to Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, who claimed the Hart Trophy two nights ago as the NHL's most valuable player and led the league with 50 goals this season.
It's a particularly telling thought, as Senators general manager Bryan Murray and assistant GM Tim Murray thought so highly of Perry when they were in Anaheim that they traded into the first round to land him. Needless to say, they're thrilled to be landing a player with similar qualities.
"(It's the) same type of thing," Bryan Murray told TSN. "He's a hard-working, competitive person that has paid an awfully big price to be a hockey player, moving away from home and doing the things that he’s done. We just like his competitive nature.
"Corey’s turned out pretty well and hopefully, Stefan can do the same."
Noesen has also benefited from off-season training with a group of Dallas Stars, most notably their heart-and-soul captain Brenden Morrow, a member of Canada's gold-medal Olympic team in Vancouver in 2010.
"Being able to watch those guys train on and off the ice ... it was a great experience for me," said Noesen. "Their maturity level is very high, especially with Brenden Morrow. He was definitely an inspiration for me growing up and now he’s the captain of that team. It’s a great feeling to see those guys train and be a part of that group."