Hockey development is a marathon, not a sprint.
The history of the sport is filled with individual stories of late bloomers, players who weren’t high draft picks or top prospects, but guys who nevertheless went on to long and, in some cases, highly impactful careers.
For scouts, their job doesn’t consist solely of watching 17-year-olds in their first year of draft eligibility. Rather, a large part of the job is keeping tabs on anyone who catches their eye at various points, knowing full well that a player who flashes genuine potential in any given game just might keep getting better and begin to actualize that potential on a consistent basis.
The full story of how the Dallas Stars came about signing forward Joel L’Esperance as an undrafted free agent out of the NCAA is still not known, but perhaps one day it will be. And if the 23-year-old L’Esperance eventually actualizes the potential that he has flashed over the past few weeks, that could end up being a great story worth listening to.
The Dallas Stars organization first brought L’Esperance into the fold this past spring, when the Texas Stars signed him to an AHL amateur tryout (ATO) after he wrapped up his fourth and final year at Michigan Tech. It took no time at all for the big forward to make an impact, using his physical game, smarts and work ethic to earn a full-time spot on the roster as Texas advanced all the way to the Calder Cup final. He played so well, in fact, that Dallas general manager Jim Nill and his staff were willing to offer L’Esperance a full entry-level contract to keep him within the organization.
Somewhere out there, a scout who spent his weekend nights in cold Michigan rinks watching a then-little-known L’Esperance grow and develop over the years, and who vouched for him to the organization’s brass enough to help him get that first ATO, is feeling pretty vindicated right about now.
Texas has played nine games of their 2018-19 season thus far, and L’Esperance is currently sitting second on the team in scoring, with five goals and three assists for eight points. He’s been a major difference-maker for the club, chipping in offense while also playing solid defense, skating well and bringing a physical element in all three zones. Despite his lack of pro experience to date, he’s playing the game like a grizzled veteran and earning high praise for the work he’s putting in.
As touched on last week by Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News, Texas head coach Derek Laxdal is a big fan of the native of Brighton, Michigan.
“Beast,” Laxdal said. “He’s a beast. He’s a beast down low. Love him. Reminds me so much of Jay Beagle, who I brought out of college, played in Idaho. You know what he is now and what he’s doing in the NHL. I just think that L’Espy’s got more of an offensive upside. He’s got a little bit of Joel Otto in him too, a throwback. ... He’s a big, heavy centerman that can score. He just seems to get better and better every game. He’s a good prospect for the Dallas Stars, and he’s been a big part of our success early on in the season.”
L’Esperance doesn’t project as a high-flying, offensive tour de force or anything of that nature, but at this point he certainly looks like a player who could carve out a regular NHL role sometime in the near future, someone who brings a physical element to the ice, gobbles up tough defensive minutes and occasionally chips in with some timely secondary scoring.
And as Laxdal touched on with recent Stanley Cup-winner Jay Beagle, what team doesn’t want players like that?
Roope Hintz seems to be taking his recent reassignment to the AHL in stride, picking up three points over his past two games (one goal and two helpers).
Denis Gurianov extended his goal-scoring streak to six games on Friday, and added an assist for good measure, before his streak was snapped on Saturday. He did pick up an assist in that second game, however, bringing his season total to 10 points in nine games, which currently leads Texas.
Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther missed both games last week and still remains out of the lineup due to injury.
North American Juniors
Kamloops Blazers forward Jermaine Loewen returned to action this weekend after a recent suspension, and boy, was he excited to be back in the lineup. The big power winger recorded seven points in three games, which also included scoring a hat trick on Saturday.
Now featuring Jermaine Loewen... discussing his hat-trick and a Blazer win... in front of a VERY expensive painting, added for ambience. WATCH: pic.twitter.com/AJ6PpQ4Kya— Kamloops Blazers (@blazerhockey) October 28, 2018
After a slow start to his season, 2018 4th-rounder Curtis Douglas has picked things up as of late, scoring three points in his past three games. He had a two-goal outing in Windsor’s 6-1 victory on Sunday.
HIGHLIGHTS presented by The Barber's Chair: Frasca and Douglas each had a pair of goals, backing a vintage Mikey effort (33 saves) that set a team record for wins (79) as the Spits left Owen Sound today with a 6-1 win over @AttackOHL. pic.twitter.com/jin8RJ8Tzx— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) October 29, 2018
Ty Dellandrea picked up five points over his past three games for Flint, who are still the OHL’s only winless team this season.
DeFranks recently caught up with Dellandrea and his new head coach, Eric Wellwood, to profile the young center and his team’s struggles. While the pressures of playing on such a bad team seem like they could be crippling for a prospect’s development, Dellandrea seems to be handling the situation about as well as one reasonably could.
“Some people might think this is the worst thing that could ever happen to them,” Dellandrea said. “Haven’t won a game, but there’s always people going through harder times. People are sick, we’re healthy. We’re playing hockey. Can’t get much better than that, right?”
University of Michigan defenseman Joe Cecconi padded his season’s point totals over the weekend, recording four assists (one primary, three secondary) in two games. Playing once again this year on his team’s top blueline pairing and top power play unit, Cecconi is now up to six points (all assists) in five games.
2017 5th-rounder Jacob Peterson is on a nice little tear with Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan, recording two goals and an assist in his past two games. The 19-year-old forward is now up to seven points in 12 games, which is tied for tops among forwards on his team. He also leads Bjorkloven in goals, with five.
On Friday Bjorkloven, which also includes Stars defensive prospect Jakob Stenqvist, faced off against Oskar Back’s BIK Karlskoga club. In addition to some points from Peterson, Stenqvist had a goal and Back had a primary assist in Bjorkloven’s 4-2 victory. Highlights from the game can be found at this link.