Matt Fraser impressive in first AHL season

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Matt Fraser smiles when asked if he expected to put up such big goal scoring numbers in his first professional season. It appears the Texas Stars forward has been asked that question before, a lot.

“I didn’t have any goals coming into the season,” Fraser said. “I wanted to be an impact player and every time someone has asked me that all I’ve said is I wanted to be an impact player every way I could. I wanted to contribute any time I was on the ice, and I was happy with the goals. That’s just a small part of the game.”

Perhaps a small part of the game, but it’s hard not to notice when looking at Fraser’s first full season in the American Hockey League. His 37 goals in 73 games ranked second in the league. His 55 points tied for sixth among AHL rookies. The 6-2, 207 pound wing was third among rookies with 11 power play goals.

And the impressive thing is that his offensive production was pretty consistent right to the end of the season, even though he had some injury issues.

“What people don’t know is that he isn’t 100 percent. He’s been that way probably the last two months,” Texas GM Scott White said as his team prepared to play its final games this past weekend. “Credit him for working through all that. He’s been solid, really solid.”

Not that there wasn’t an adjustment period for the 21-year-old Fraser, who was never drafted but signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent out of the Western Hockey League in the fall of 2010.

“It was definitely a learning curve. As a first year pro you just try to be a sponge and soak up as much as you can,” Fraser said. “I really didn’t know what to expect coming in, but I wanted to learn a lot and learn the ropes as a professional hockey player.”

Off the ice, it was learning to be out on his own and taking care of mundane things like laundry and paying the bills. On the ice, it was adjusting to a higher level of play and competition, and becoming better on the defensive side of things.

“In junior you can kind of get away with some bad habits (defensively), but when you get up here there are guys who are paid to expose those bad habits,” he said. “At the start of the year that was probably the biggest thing I had trouble with, but as the year went on the players and the coaches really helped me strengthen that part of my game and be better at it.”

Fraser also had to get used to losing this season, something he hasn’t been accustomed to much in his career. He made it to the playoffs in each of his four years with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, and last season the Ice won the WHL championship and went to the Memorial Cup.

“It was a difficult season as a team,” he said. “You see two different perspectives of hockey. You take the positives from this year and you bring them into next year.”

And White, the Texas GM, saw a lot of positives from Fraser.

“Matt has been a really good pro. He’s had an awesome rookie season,” White said. “I think he’s learned about the pace of the game, I think he’s learned about the defensive detail of the game that’s going to make him a legitimate two-way player in the NHL. And I haven’t even got to the 37 goals that he’s scored. He has an NHL shot. He’s well on his way.”

Fraser got a brief taste of the NHL this past season, playing in a game against Anaheim just before the NHL All-Star break and logging just 3:57 of ice time. He had a strong training camp and scored two goals in three preseason games for Dallas.

The Alberta native has a knack for scoring goals. He topped the 30-goal mark in each of his last two seasons in juniors. And with Dallas looking for scoring depth he knows there’s an opportunity for him to push for a roster spot or at least significant time in the NHL next season.

“I hope so. My goal is to play in the NHL. I can make a decision hard for them,” Fraser said. “I am going to do everything I can in the offseason and now to make myself a better player, get stronger and faster. Coming into camp next year I certainly want to give them a hard decision. I loved my time in Austin, but my goal is to make the NHL.”