If there’s one thing that forward Marcels Noebels doesn’t lack, it’s self- confidence. The Philadelphia Flyers fourth round selection from the 2011 National Hockey League Draft has begun his first professional season playing for the Trenton Titans their ECHL affiliate, but the native of Toenisvorst, Germany made it abundantly clear he has no intention of being there by the end of the 2012-2013 season.
“I want to move on. I’m not happy playing in the East Coast League. I want to be in the NHL at some point. I’m trying to be the best player on the ice every night. I want to make the decision really tough for the guys in Philadelphia.”
If not for the NHL lockout, Noebels could have possibly started his season playing in the American Hockey League. But the Titans offered something that he wouldn’t have necessarily received at the higher level: plenty of ice time and opportunity to be a focal point in his first professional season.
His performance thus far has offered the organization some food for thought. Through 31 games, Noebels has been a nearly point per game player (11 goals, 30 points) and has had some major scoring streaks with nine points in his opening eight games and a December that saw him post at least one point in 12 of 14 games, including eight in a row before the Titans 3-2 loss to the Reading Royals on December 29th.
Overall, he has nine goals and 22 points for the month.
During a 7-6 victory over the Elmira Jackals, he scored a hat trick and added an assist, while in a December 28th 5-4 loss at Reading, he notched four assists. In short, he has shown excellent versatility in burying goals and providing positive offensive plays to set up his linemates, namely center Steven Shcultz and winger Andy Bohmbach.
One can see the package that Noebels brings. Size (6’2, 204 lbs), anticipation in the scoring areas, a hard low shot that allows him to put the puck where he wants it, be it on his teammates sticks or on net. It’s an NHL quality tool box.
But what may have truly defined his season so far was his ability to overcome a nine game pointless streak through late November. During that stretch, the Titans went through a pair of lengthy losing streaks. How one responds and adapts to those circumstances is a telling thing. For Noebels, the answer was deceptively simple.
“Work. It’s as easy as that. Just because you hit the post doesn’t mean you quit. You just work harder. It was hard for me during that stretch and we lost several games at that point.”
Part of that mindset has allowed him to become a focal point of the club.
“I feel like a leader on this team. I’m trying to be a leader. It doesn’t have to be just me scoring, other guys step up too. But the last few games have been going really good for me and I’m trying to lead the team with scoring and other areas.”
In his first season in the Western Hockey League as an 18-year-old with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Noebels potted 28 goals and added 26 assists for 54 points in 64 games. In his second junior season, he was splitting time between Seattle and the Portland Winterhawks, finishing with 20 goals and 58 points in 62 games.
There are still things for the young German forward to continue working at. One specific area is his skating. While his speed is definitely NHL caliber, he does occasionally fall into meandering patterns that get him out of good defensive position. While those patterns have easy forgiveness in junior hockey, even a “Double-A” league like the ECHL can punish a player for them. He is also learning how to battle in the slot. During the Titans 2-1 overtime win on December 27, he had to battle against a very physical Royals defense and had his difficulties maintaining position. For Noebels to be successful at the higher levels, he needs to learn to not just maneuver into the slot, but to be a moving target hunting for the right spot for maximum effectiveness.
Titans coach Vince Williams noticed some those of patterns increasing in frequency during Noebels’ nine game slump.
“We went back to the beginning and showed him about a half hour of video clips of him being out muscled and manned,” Williams said. “(The most important thing was) just learning how to play with his body. He’s a big kid and a lot of growth to go.”
Noebels concurred with his coach’s assessment.
“During that stretch, I had some of my worst games. It’s pro hockey here in the ECHL. Young guys were sent down. I’m not the only one. We’ve got good goaltending in this league right now. It was tough. But you have to do the small things right. If you fire a shot and hit the post, (you have to) keep going.”
Despite that, Williams saw a different, more confident Noebels emerge from his struggles.
“He’s changed the way he’s played. He’s playing underneath his stick and his body, playing with confidence. He’s a hungry kid and very mature for a 20 year old. He takes good care of himself.”
“But he did have to learn to play the pro game and playing against bigger stronger guys. He’s embraced it and he knew it was going to come. It’s been a dramatic improvement on him all around and it’s paid off.”
The evidence of that was on full display in overtime Thursday night when Noebels worked a four on three power play opportunity, first by positioning himself in the high slot area then waited for a screen to develop in front of Royals goaltender Phillipp Grubauer.
Within a split second, he buried a hard low shot past his fellow countryman to give the Titans a 2-1 victory over their divisional nemesis.
It was exactly the kind of self-confident message that speaks volumes to the higher ups in the Flyers’ organization.
photo courtesy of Trenton Titans. Photo by Shelley Szwast
Anthony Mingioni covers the Philadelphia Flyers and the National Hockey League for Sportsology and Center Ice Philly Magazine
You can follow him on Twitter: @AnthonyMingioni or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org