When the Montreal Canadiens chose defenseman Noah Juulsen with the 26th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, many were underwhelmed.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t done much to shake that label in this last year.
Juulsen was one of the final cuts from Team Canada’s World Junior team last December, and in his second year at the Summer Showcase, didn’t really stick out as he tries to make the team in his second attempt.
After a year that saw his production drop, he goes into his last year of Junior with a chance to answer some questions before joining, presumably, the Canadiens’ affiliate organization in Laval.
But things aren’t as bad as they seem. In fact, this is a case where there’s more than meets the eye.
Juulsen’s votes came in the 10-17 range with the only exceptions being on the high end (8, by Stephen) and the low end (23, by Scott).
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This is Juulsen’s second year in the rankings and he moves up from #17 last year but that jump is almost all explained by players who are no longer a part of the organization.
Noah Juulsen’s biggest strengths are ones that aren’t flashy, and that’s a reason many feel his stock has dropped.
But if you watch him play, what he brings to the table is important and consistent.
He gets the stigma of defensive defenceman, but he can clear the zone with the puck on his stick. An EOTP article from earlier in the year by Mitch Brown goes in more detail.
Juulsen's excellent breakout pass ability stands out as the best and most consistent on a team that features quite a few defenders with quality vision. Seeing Juulsen fail to connect with a pass is even rarer than it was last season. Just like the rest of the 'Tips, Juulsen rarely dumps the puck out, heavily utilizes a pass to exit the zone, and will occasionally make a dazzling rush. And he does these better than any other defender on the team.
Juulsen’s abilities to skate and pass the puck out go with the team’s philosophies and at development camp those abilities were found in guys like Tom Parisi, Arvid Henrikson and Nikolas Koberstein as well.
He can also play very well in his own end. He has the size at 6’2” that makes him appealing and projectable for an NHL future.
He plays junior for Everett and coach Kevin Constantine has a very defensive style of play. Juulsen is the best defenceman on a team that perennially is among the lowest in goals and shots allowed.
In the defensive zone, Juulsen is as no-nonsense as they come. He's quite strong, using his strength to tie forwards up and effectively clear the crease. His excellent anticipation allows him to intercept passes and always keep his stick in passing and shooting lanes, an area that has noticeably improved. He shows no fear when blocking shots, and does an effective job sprawling out on the penalty kill. And, yes, he still hits hard, and his timing has gotten much better.
Juulsen also has a heavy shot and can provide depth on a secondary power play unit. He also plays the puck very smartly and does tend to find teammates in transition and in the offensive zone.
And although he doesn’t have the offensive statistics, he has a surprising ability to create in the offensive zone.
The big knock on Juulsen is the significant drop in his scoring numbers. He went from 52 points down to 28. His goals were similar (nine and seven) but his assists dropped way down.
But, his primary points per game at even strength actually stayed consistent between the two seasons meaning the drop may be more to do with his teammates than anything on his end.
The scoring numbers are concerning. Top defencemen, even defensive-minded ones, tend to put up better numbers in Junior than Juulsen has.
As you could see his 2015-16 season was not very good, but compared to his 2014-15 season, it shows what he has done and what made him a first round pick.
He was one of the final cuts from Team Canada’s World Junior team last year, and is eligible for the team this year when the tournament will be held in Toronto and Montreal.
Juulsen goes into his final year in the WHL with a little bit of urgency. He will have a chance to make an impression before coming to the professional level. He’s still young, but if he fails to rebound, it may go a long way in determining his future.
He will be at training camp, and after being injured for most of camp last year, will hopefully have more of a chance to play with the big club and gain some experience.
He may get some looks in some pre-season games, but I don’t think there’s a scenario that sees Juulsen with any real opportunity to make this Habs team.
Juulsen will try to make Team Canada at the World Juniors this year, and like last year will be expected to make the team but will be in tough in a deep blue line crop.