The American Hockey League (AHL) is the top development league for the NHL, but it is also one of the most competitive leagues in the entire world. Franchises try to find the right mixture of preparing young players for the next step of their careers and winning a Calder Cup championship. One team that has always looked to be at the top of the standings is the Chicago Wolves.

Throughout their franchise history, the Wolves seem to have mastered the recipe of talented young players and experienced veterans. AHL teams need those vets to not only help produce on the ice but also lead in the locker room. Stefan Noesen fits this mold as he has been a crucial part of one of the best lines in the league while being a role model for a slew of players just starting their professional journeys.

The Long Road to Chicago

Noesen, born in Plano, TX, began playing hockey in the suburbs of Dallas, where he was a teammate of Blake Coleman. He made a name for himself with the Plymouth Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). After scoring 34 goals and 77 points during the 2010-11 season, he was selected 21st overall by the Ottawa Senators with the first-round draft pick they received from the Nashville Predators for Mike Fisher.

He signed his entry-level contract with the Senators on Dec. 29, 2011, but never played for the franchise. On July 5, 2013, Noesen was traded to the Anaheim Ducks along with forward Jakob Silfverberg and a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft for forward Bobby Ryan. He made his NHL debut for the Ducks on April 3, 2015, and scored his first career goal on Dec. 7, 2016, in his third game.

Noesen was claimed off waivers by the New Jersey Devils midway through the 2016-17 season. He had his best NHL run the following season, scoring 13 goals and 27 points in 72 games. He dressed in four playoff games and scored one goal during the Devils’ first-round defeat of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After failing to make the Dallas Stars roster out of training camp in 2019, he signed an AHL deal with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He played well enough to earn an NHL contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins and scored a goal in six games before being claimed off waivers by the San Jose Sharks.

Noesen had six goals and eight points in 39 games for the Sharks before he was part of the three-team trade that sent him and Nick Foligno to the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 11, 2021. He dressed in one regular-season game for the Maple Leafs. He signed a two-way contract with the Carolina Hurricanes this past August. He got into two NHL games in late December as the Hurricanes dealt with COVID issues, but he has been a valuable part of the Wolves lineup for much of the season.

A Big Cog in the Wolves’ Wheel

The Wolves have the best record in the AHL at 23-5-1-1 heading into the weekend. You don’t get a .800 points percentage without a complete team effort, but the Wolves have benefitted from a dynamic top line. For much of the season, Noesen has been on a line with center Andre Poturalski and left winger C.J. Smith. The trio has combined for 41 goals and 104 points this season. In the last three games, head coach Ryan Warsofsky swapped out Smith for Sam Miletic, who has a goal and five points since the promotion.

“Our team is rolling,” Noesen said after a recent victory. “Our line is probably one of the best in the league. We had almost 100 points as a line, which was pretty good heading into the Christmas break. We’ve started up again right where we’ve left off.”

Noesen and Poturalski have been quite the dynamic duo in Chicago. Poturalski is tied with Michael Mersch of the Rochester Americans with a league-high 16 goals, and Noesen has assisted on eight of them. On the flipside, Poturalski has assisted on nine of Noesen’s 15 goals.  

“He works his ass off,” Poturalski said of his linemate. “He’s always the first one in there on pucks. He makes my life a lot easier by doing the dirty work. To have a guy like that on my line and just to know he’s going to give 100% every night is great. Playing with him is a lot of fun.”

The 28-year-old winger impressed during his time in Carolina this preseason but had to start the season in Chicago. The veteran has made the most of the situation.

“I thought I had a really good camp and had a chance to make the team,’ said Noesen. “You never want to get that call saying you’re going down, but it was all positive. They said to come down and enjoy being here. Be a leader and get these guys going the right way.”

Warsofsky appreciates everything Noesen brings to his relatively young squad.

“Whether it’s his play with the puck or without it, his body language, his energy on the bench, our younger guys watch him,” he said. “He needs to be aware of that.”

That message has been communicated to Noesen, and he has embraced his role of doing the hard work on the ice and setting an example off it.

“There’s no blunt way to put it; my game is very meat and potatoes,” admitted Noesen. “Our line, as a whole, we feed well off each other. So, I can go out there and create some room for those skilled guys. As far as being a leader, the guys see me doing things like that, and it makes them want to do it. That’s what I pride myself on.”

The Wolves have one of the top teams in the AHL. With a veteran like Noesen buying into the system, Chicago will be a very tough out in the Calder Cup Playoffs this spring.

This article first appeared on The Hockey Writers and was syndicated with permission.

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