FRISCO — When Jordan Kawaguchi signed his entry-level contract with the Stars in March, he didn’t know an important off-ice factor: that one of his college teammates would be joining him.
Kawaguchi signed with Dallas on March 31, and one day later, goaltender Adam Scheel signed with the Stars. Now, both players are entering their first full professional season together, which started with last weekend’s prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
The two overlapped for three seasons at North Dakota, including when Kawaguchi was the team’s captain in 2020-21.
“To be honest, him and I were pretty close the last three years at school,” Kawaguchi said. “Obviously, I signed first here in Dallas, and then I was pretty nervous flying down to Texas not knowing anyone. I heard he signed, and it made me feel a lot better. It was just nice knowing someone going into a room; when you know one person out of 20, it’s a lot better than knowing no one. Helped me out a lot, and I’m sure he would say the same thing.”
Scheel: “Me and Jordan are really close. We’ve always been good friends ever since my freshman year. He was one of the first guys I ever hung out with at school. So it’s nice to have him down here as a friendly face.”
Though familiar with each other, the two players enter 2021-22 under different circumstances.
Kawaguchi, 24, is coming off knee surgery that ended his AHL cameo with Texas after just three games. He had one goal and one assist in his AHL debut, when he also had eight shots on goal.
“For the first couple months [of the offseason], it was kind of just me hobbling around, on crutches a little bit,” Kawaguchi said. “After that, was able to do more and more gradually. Got to this point where I’m fully back and ready to go.”
Kawaguchi was on the Stars’ second power-play unit in Traverse City, and will fight for playing time on the man-advantage in Texas this season. With Riley Damiani, Ty Dellandrea, Joel L’Esperance, Jacob Peterson, Tanner Kero and Fredrik Karlstrom in Texas (in addition to AHL signings Anthony Louis and Curtis McKenzie), Texas will have plenty of options up front on the power play.
Kawaguchi is a playmaking center who can also play wing, and he posted 126 points in 136 college games at North Dakota. He had one assist in two games in Traverse City.
Scheel, meanwhile, is almost guaranteed to see the ice plenty this season. Should Jake Oettinger be in the AHL, Scheel will probably be his backup. If Oettinger is in the NHL because of either injury or performance issues in Dallas, Scheel would be the starter in Cedar Park.
Either way, the 22-year-old will man the net a decent amount across the entire AHL season. Last season after joining Texas, Scheel played 12 games with a .912 save percentage and 3.06 goals-against average as he passed Colton Point to be the team’s starting goaltender.
“I learned that it’s an everyday league,” Scheel said. “Whether it’s the NHL or AHL, any professional league, you’ve got to show up every day, come to the rink ready to work and give it your best.”
Scheel struggled mightily in Traverse City during his two starts, allowing 11 goals on 35 shots during five periods.
Scheel could be the long-term answer besides Oettinger in the NHL, though it’s too early to say given his 12 games of professional experience. (College success isn’t always perfectly translated: Point led the NCAA in save percentage before he turned pro.)
But the Stars have also drafted only one goalie in the last four drafts, a sixth-rounder in 2020 named Remi Poirier, who was also in Traverse City.
Off the ice, at least, Kawaguchi and Scheel will understand what to expect. Are they going to be roommates in Cedar Park?
“Hopefully, if he doesn’t get too fed up with me,” Scheel said.