L’Esperance celebrates his AHL success, wants more

Photo courtesy of the Texas Stars San Antonio’s Niko Mikkola battles Texas’ Joel L’Esperance for a loose puck during a game this season.

HIGHLAND PARK, Texas — After scoring 46 goals in 152 games at Michigan Tech, current Texas Stars forward Joel L’Esperance recently broke the 30-goal plateau with the Stars, putting together a tremendous rookie season that saw him score 30 goals and 45 points in just 54 contests.

The Brighton, Michigan, native scored his 30th AHL goal with the Stars after being sent back to the AHL from the Dallas Stars earlier this season. The move down was not an easy one for L’Esperance, but he feels he’s moving in the right direction by working hard on and off the ice.

“The transition is tough, obviously,” he said. “Everybody’s good at both levels, so you have to be ready to go when you get called up. When you get sent back down, you’ve got to prove yourself again to get called back up again.”

Despite the disappointment of being at the game’s highest level for 18 games before being sent back down, L’Esperance is trying to take it all in stride.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said L’Esperance. “Not many people go up there (to the NHL level) the first time and stay for the rest of their career, so (I) just (need to) keep working and try to get back up there again.”

Every hockey player’s journey is unique and full of ups and downs as teams fluctuate from season to season. L’Esperance is working hard for his spot with the Dallas Stars next season.

“It depends on the situation that they have up there, so you just try to play your best game every time you’re on the ice and hope that they need you on the big team,” he said.

L’Esperance is trying to focus on improvement, as that could be the key to sticking with the parent club if he gets another chance.

“I feel like it’s good,” said L’Esperance. “I feel like I’m in good shape. I just have to keep going.

“(I just need to) focus on trying to do what I can (in) every game and try not to get caught up in the goals and try to keep playing the right way.”

Success has come in many forms for L’Esperance during the 2018-19 hockey season. He was scoring consistently at the AHL level before his first call-up to the NHL. After being sent back down, he got a second chance, where he scored his first NHL goal. He finished his second stint with a second tally before he was sent back to the AHL.

“I think I reached most of my goals this year, so I feel like that was good,” he said. “There weren’t many that didn’t get touched. (I just want to) work on my overall game (and) work on the little parts of my game that need work and just be ready to go (for next season).”

Looking back after the AHL regular season ended, L’Esperance has taken a brief beat to take it all in.

“I feel like, away from the 30 goals, my first goal in the NHL was a pretty cool moment this year, and then, obviously, scoring the 30th goal was pretty special as well,” he said. “It was a pretty cool feeling (because) not many players have got to 30 goals, so to get there, it was pretty special.”

The Stars did not qualify for the AHL playoffs as they finished five points back of the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Iowa Wild. However, L’Esperance was happy to accomplish as much as he did in his first full professional season. L’Esperance said he could not have achieved the success he did without fostering strong relationships with his teammates on both teams. With wisdom comes an opportunity to grow.

“Yeah, chemistry on the ice is huge, so playing with the guys that I did all year, it definitely helped me (reach) where I was with the 30 goals, for sure,” said L’Esperance. “You learn to figure out where guys are going to be, where they like to pass (and) where they’re going to put the puck. It definitely helps to know guys that your playing with.

“I don’t know that there’s one specific player, but there’s a group of veterans on the team that have been really helpful. So, that group of guys have really helped develop my game and pushed my game to the next level.”