FRISCO, Texas -- Stefan Noesen has thought about skating out onto American Airlines Center ice in a Stars sweater for quite some time, and he is expected to get that chance Monday.
The Plano native learned to play hockey in the Dallas area and was a huge Stars fan growing up. Noesen has already played 159 NHL games and has played against the Stars in the past, but he was not given a contract by the New Jersey Devils after last season, and is on a professional tryout contract now with Dallas. That means there's a lot on the line, and having a great game could lead to a full-time gig in his hometown.
"I think me putting on the initial uniform will be a little surreal," Noesen said of Monday's preseason debut. "First shift, I might run through a wall."
It's just one of the fun stories for the Stars as they try to whittle their roster down to 23 players for an opening night battle Oct. 3 vs. Boston. First-round draft pick Ty Dellandrea is trying to make the roster as a 19-year-old. First-round draft pick Denis Gurianov is trying to make the roster as a 22-year-old who has three years of AHL experience. Finnish free agent Joel Kiviranta is trying to make the roster as a 23-year-old with plenty of experience overseas.
So finding a dream ending for Noesen, 26, is no easy task.
But while the competition will be intense, Noesen has proven he can play in the NHL. A first-round draft pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2011 (21st overall), Noesen has played NHL games with the Ducks and the Devils. Two seasons, ago, he tallied 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 72 games and earned a one-year deal worth $1.725 million.
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Last season, Noesen struggled with a knee injury and played in just 41 games, and that's the reason he was cut loose by New Jersey.
"I was injured for most of the year, so they had other guys coming up and they saw something that was better, so we went our separate ways," Noesen said. "As for contract stuff, you've got to earn that."
Noesen has a leg up on earning a new deal because he has been around for a while, and Stars coach Jim Montgomery said he has already seen that in the three days of training camp in Frisco.
"He's asking really good questions, he wants to know how we play," Montgomery said. "You can tell he wants to be good at his profession, so he's a true pro."
Noesen's scouting report is filled with phrases like "good hands," "great hockey sense," and "an interesting package of size, skating and feistiness." But last season's injury (a cyst on his ACL that required arthroscopic surgery) took away a lot of his strengths, and he now has to prove that he has those elements back.
"Getting up and down the ice last year was kind of a hassle for me. Walking up stairs was not great," he said. "This year, I'm just starting to get into the swing of things, and it feels good."
And what better place to try this comeback than home. He said he really hasn't spent that much time in North Texas since becoming a pro at age 19, but added that he and his wife plan to move to Dallas full-time at some point. The time he's spending here now is bringing back memories.
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Noesen was born in 1993, the year the Stars moved to Texas, and said he was a big fan growing up. He attended Stars events, and played in the youth leagues. He was six when Dallas won the Stanley Cup and he remembers attending autograph signings and wearing his Stars sweater around.
So, now, wearing the new logo and playing for the team -- even in an exhibition game -- will bring back a ton of memories for him. And, oh yeah, it could have a big impact on his professional career.
"He's been an NHL regular player, but he's had some injury troubles. You get to a certain age in your career, where you've got to take that final step, and that's where he's at," Stars GM Jim Nill said. "He's a local player, so it's nice to give him an opportunity."
One that should be appreciated by the hometown fans on Monday.
"I have a lot of friends and family still here," Noesen said, before pausing. "Maybe you'll see some signs or something…?"
Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues
Monday, 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: American Airlines Center
Tickets: View seats
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.