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Catching the Torch: Noah Juulsen’s offence back on track

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A weekly update on the progress of the Canadiens’ prospects.

NHL: Preseason-New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Each week we will take an in-depth look at one young member of the organization, while providing an overview on performances over the last seven days of players below the NHL level. This includes players at the junior (CHL, USHL, etc.) and collegiate (NCAA) levels, as well as professional (AHL, ECHL) ranks.

Prospect Spotlight: Noah Juulsen, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)

The 2015-16 season was a disappointing one — at least offensively — for Noah Juulsen. A year earlier, his 52 points in 68 games, combined with sound defensive play, were enough to convince Trevor Timmins, Marc Bergevin, and the Montreal Canadiens to make him the 26th-overall player taken in the NHL Entry Draft.

But his follow-up year wasn’t up to snuff, managing only 28 points in 63 contests and being cut from Team Canada’s entry to the World Junior Hockey Championship. While Juulsen and those around him claimed the rearguard and taken an increased focus on the defensive aspects of his game, and his Everett Silvertips as a whole were not renowned as an offensive powerhouse, outside observers couldn’t help but see it as a step backward.

Safe to say, then, that Juulsen entered this season with something to prove, and he had a fairly impressive showing during Montreal’s Rookie Camp, frequently paired with fellow first-rounder Mikhail Sergachev. The two formed somewhat of an odd couple, with Sergachev’s flashiness standing out, while Juulsen quietly played a smart all-around game, but that balance may make them strong partners at the NHL level someday.

Upon his return to Everett, Juulsen was named team captain for the 2016-17 campaign, which will be his final year of junior hockey (he turns 20 in April). As for his leadership style, Canadiens director of player development, Martin Lapointe, shed some light on it in a conversation with La Presse.

“He doesn’t speak much, but I can already see his professionalism. Unlike many players his age, he has outstanding maturity.”

In the early going, Juulsen’s confidence has seemed at an all-time high, finding the scoreboard in five of six contests thus far, including all four games this week, leading his Silvertips to a 4-0-0 run.

Playing with 16-year-old Jacob Christiansen on Everett’s top pair, Juulsen’s only goal this week came on a power-play pinch Friday night. Trailing 2-1, the Silvertips were handed a five-minute man advantage due to a blindside hit on Devon Skoleski. Just ten seconds after Patrick Bajkov had tied the game, Juulsen took a pass from 17-year-old Sean Richards in the slot and put his side ahead on a hard snap shot. After Spokane evened the game at 3, Juulsen collected his second point of the night in overtime, earning a secondary assist on another Bajkov tally.

Juulsen also had a helper in each of the three other games this week, as the young Everett squad improved to an 8-1-1 start to the season, sitting atop the WHL’s U.S. Division.

As he continues to develop both the offensive and defensive elements of his game, Lapointe had a non-traditional, but flattering, comparison for the young blue-liner: Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.

“He soaks up everything from the more experienced players around him,” said Lapointe, who was a teammate of Bergeron’s during his rookie season with the Bruins. “The way he prepares for games, and his character, remind me of Patrice. Their willingness to learn and listen are similar.”

If he lives up to his potential, the 19-year-old projects to be a blue-liner with a game similar to that of Jeff Petry. While he’s still likely two years away from trying to break into the Montreal lineup (this final junior season and a year in the AHL), Lapointe has no doubt he will get there.

“Will he be a top-two, -four, or -six guy? I have some thoughts, but I’ll keep them to myself. But I’ll tell you right now: he will be a Montreal Canadien. He won’t be judged by his point totals, but by the way he plays. He’s a guy who will defend his teammates, a good team player. Lots of teams will wish they had a Noah Juulsen.”

Performances from October 10-16, 2016

CHL

It seemed for a while that the Ontario Hockey League might not have an answer for Montreal’s Jeremiah Addison and his talented linemates Logan Brown and Gabriel Vilardi. An assistant captain with Memorial Cup-host Windsor, Addison began the week with a goal and assist in a 7-2 victory over Flint.

The Spitfires finally met their match the following evening, however, blanked 4-0 by Victor Mete’s London Knights. Addison’s nine points on the season so far have him tied for fourth on the Spits’ roster with Vilardi, each having played only five games, while those above them have played at least three more.

Speaking of Victor Mete, he’s another blue-liner (like Juulsen) whose two-way game is developing nicely early this season. The Knights played only two games, but his goal and defensive effort against the Spitfires earned him third-star honours that night.

We had more on Mete in recent days from Mitch Brown (here) and Scott Matla (here).

After a relatively slow start to his tenure with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Will Bitten broke out with two multi-point outings in three games. Bitten started off with a goal and an assist against North Bay on Thursday, his tally putting the ‘Dogs up 6-2 in the second. He again picked up two points, both assists, in a 6-4 loss to Sudbury, and was named the game’s third star. He added his second goal of the season in a 4-2 triumph over Sudbury.

Bitten plays in the shadow of Hamilton’s top scoring line, but has formed a formidable duo with undrafted 20-year-old Michael Cramarossa.

Simon Bourque continued to produce above a point-per-game clip in Rimouski’s two matchups. First he picked up primary helpers on Rimouski’s fifth and ninth goals in a 10-6 win over Moncton. On Sunday, he added a power-play assist in another offensive explosion: a 7-1 romp over Gatineau.

Matt Bradley had a big night on Friday, completing a Gordie Howe hat trick in a game he finished with a goal, an assist, and 19 minutes in penalties. His goal came on a lucky bounce, when his shot changed direction a couple of times before finding the back of the net to stake Medicine Hat to a 5-1 lead. He was held off the scoreboard in the Tigers’ other two games, on Tuesday and Saturday.

Michael Pezzetta seemed to find a groove after his early season was disrupted by a suspension. Playing on a line with St. Louis draft pick Liam Dunda and 17-year-old Ben Garagan, the 6’1” centreman scored two goals on four shots Friday in a big win over Hamilton, the second being an insurance marker into an empty net.

Pezzetta found the back of the net again in the rematch the next night, named third star in a game where Hamilton got the upper hand. He was held shotless and pointless in his team’s 5-3 win over Oshawa on Sunday.

NCAA

Jake Evans had a big game Friday night for Notre Dame, picking up helpers on the Fighting Irish’s first two goals, both scored on the power play. Notre Dame ended up dropping that decision, 4-3 to Minnesota-Duluth, but would get their revenge the next night with a 3-1 victory, despite Evans being held off the scoreboard.

Nikolas Koberstein, not known for his offence, failed to add to his lone assist in two contests. He was the victim of bad luck in a loss on Saturday, directly responsible for the opening goal against as his stick snapped on an attempted breakout pass, resulting in an opposing breakaway and a Mason Morelli tally.

Casey Staum finished +1 in a 5-3 victory Friday over Thomas Vanek’s former club of Sioux Falls. But he and partner Patrick Kudla (Arizona’s 2016 sixth-round pick) were on the ice for the winning goal against on Saturday as Dubuque came out on the wrong side of a 4-1 verdict.

Colin Sullivan sat out Miami of Ohio’s only game this week.

AHL/ECHL

Charles Hudon was arguably St. John’s best forward in a disappointing opening three-game set that saw them come away without a single point. While he tied for the team lead with two points, he buzzed around the opposing goal frequently, failing to convert on a pair of breakaways, and generally being a constant threat. Hudon has little left to prove in the AHL, and as long as he can produce consistently, he should be in the conversation as one of the first call-ups in case of injuries in Montreal.

Nikita Scherbak has a way of deceptively finding the scoresheet even when his bag of offensive tricks doesn’t seem to be working out. Though he was dislodged from the first line where he began on Friday, Scherbak is still seeing plenty of ice time, and both of his assists came on power-play goals.

His development hasn’t taken the accelerated curve that many fans were hoping for, but he retains the tantalizing skill that has fans hoping he’ll find greater consistency and turn this into a breakout campaign.

Named team captain earlier in the week, Max Friberg scored his first goal and was temporarily credited with a second before the latter was changed to Ryan Johnston. A star at the 2011-12 World Juniors for Sweden, the winger had two-and-a-half good AHL campaigns before his production went south. The window of NHL potential is closing for the 5’10” 23-year-old who previously skated in six games for the Anaheim Ducks, but he’ll be an important veteran to stir the IceCaps offensive drink if they are to make any noise this season.

Blue-liner Ryan Johnston’s pro rookie season was derailed by injury, but there were plenty of positives to build on, including a brief taste of NHL action in Montreal. An offensivel-minded defenceman by nature, Johnston notched his first AHL goal Sunday, seeing time on the top pair beside Mark Barberio. This is a pivotal developmental season for the smooth skater, which should go a long way to determining whether he has an NHL future, and ultimately whether he will stick within the Canadiens’ organization.

In the absence of a veteran addition, Mike McCarron entered the season as St. John’s first-line centreman. While he got on the board with an assist on the weekend, McCarron also dropped the gloves twice, as the veteran enforcers signed by Marc Bergevin to beef up the IceCaps defences proved insufficient to keep the promising youngster from scrapping.

On Sunday, McCarron’s bout with Justin Hickman came perhaps out of frustration after the final whistle, and emotions got the better of the towering forward as he delivered a headbutt that broke Hickman’s nose. Assessed a major, game misconduct, and match penalty, supplementary discipline seems likely.

For more on the IceCaps play this weekend, check out the EOTP AHL Hub.

Goaltenders

Michael McNiven had another great week, recording his first shutout of the season on Thursday with 32 saves in a 5-0 blowout. Next he backstopped Owen Sound to a 5-3 victory in a game where they outshot the visiting Kitchener Rangers 56-24. With McNiven getting a night to rest on Sunday, things weren’t quite as easy for the Attack, who again fired 56 shots on the opposing net but this time dropped a 5-2 decision to Peterborough. McNiven’s sparkling numbers to date are second among OHL goalies in goals-against average and third in save percentage.

Zachary Fucale was thrust into the starter’s role with St. John’s after Charlie Lindgren was recalled to Montreal because of an ailment afflicting Carey Price. While it would be hard to blame the IceCaps’ dismal start to the season solely on him, he did the team no favours in the two games he got the call.

Goalies mature and develop at different rates, but at this point, beyond where he was drafted (which was a reasonable gamble at the time), Fucale isn’t showing much promise as a prospect for the organization.

Hayden Hawkey slightly improved his numbers on the season despite an overtime loss. Hawkey made 19 stops against Holy Cross but was beaten just under two minutes into overtime on a wraparound by Johnny Coughlin, coming away without a win despite Providence holding a 34-21 shot advantage.