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Habs prospect analysis: Behind Noah Juulsen’s offensive resurgence

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Juulsen’s surging production is great, and the underlying numbers are even better.

Juulsen Getty Images Getty Images

Noah Juulsen has been garnering plenty of attention lately, and rightfully so. Although there wasn’t significant cause for concern, Juulsen followed up a 0.76 points-per-game campaign in his draft year with a 0.44 pace the next.

Not only is Juulsen now back on track this year, his 0.84 clip puts him on pace to shatter career highs. And to make matters even more encouraging, Juulsen has continued to see growth in his defensive game.

The first difference between this year and last is Juulsen’s supporting cast. The Everett Silvertips leading scorer had a 0.84 P/PG rate last season, while three players—Juulsen included—are producing at the same rate or higher this year.

The Silvertips have continued their suffocating ways, limiting the opposition to an average of just 26.61 shots per game (fewest in the WHL) and 1.87 goals per game (by far fewest in the WHL). Meanwhile, the ‘Tips have increased their goals for per game from 2.52 to 3.17 this season.

The next two differences are Juulsen’s play in transition and in the offensive zone.

To get a better idea of how Juulsen is performing, I tracked a multitude of events over ten games. Here are the results:

Transition: A Controlled Exit Machine

Juulsen’s defensive has taken another step forward this year. He’s closing the gap on incoming forwards earlier, often just as they gain the red line. This assertive positioning, along with an active stick and smooth footwork, has enabled Juulsen to thwart a team leading 69.14% of controlled entries, and force an uncontrolled entry on nearly 31.77% of total entry attempts (95% of which are unsuccessful).

This proficiency without the puck allows Juulsen to spend a lot of time with the puck.

All categories only count successful attempts. Juulsen lead Silvertips defenders pass exits, uncontrolled exits, and pass entries, is second in carry-outs and carry-ins.

Everett’s puck possession-focused structure limits uncontrolled entries to a last resort, meaning that the defenders are always looking for a quick pass. None of them do this better than Juulsen, who averages by far the most controlled exits per game, at a 4.9, an impressive 1.8 exits ahead of the next defender.

Juulsen opts for a breakout pass over five times more often than a carry-out, which makes sense given his 84.42% defensive zone pass completion rate.

The above clips demonstrate Juulsen’s powerful, accurate, and crisp passes. Rarely does he throw a bobbling or bouncing pass. He hammers the puck around the ice at a speed noticeably faster than his teammates, which bodes well for his transition to the professional game.

Defencemen aren’t often responsible for zone entries in Everett, but once again Juulsen demonstrates a proficiency unrivaled by his teammates. He averages nearly a full controlled entry per game more than the second-highest defender.

Passes are his typical method of gaining the zone, but when Juulsen decides to take matters into his own hands he can make the odd dazzling rush here or there.

Limiting defensive zone time and thriving in transition have allowed Juulsen to spend plenty of offensive zone time.

Offensive Zone: A Diverse Threat

The greatest difference between this year and last in Juulsen’s game: He’s creating offence through in a variety of manners.

Juulsen leads all Everett defenders in individual shot attempts, shots on goal, as well as primary and secondary shot on goal assists (all even-strength).

Possession-retaining plays: A pinch or blue line hold that either retains possession, the offensive zone, or both.

Factoring in the powerplay gives Juulsen a full extra shot assist/GP and nearly a full shot per game. To make the numbers even more impressive, Juulsen plays on Everett’s second powerplay unit as the go-to playmaker, not as the shooter.

The dramatic production and performance improvements begin with movement. No longer is he isn’t limited to just firing a shot towards goal or rimming the puck around the boards.

Juulsen is both stronger and smoother on his edges than year’s past. He is less rigid when stickhandling, often mixing in full-body and head fakes, which makes him more unpredictable.

By combining this improved tools, Juulsen is creating more lanes to utilize his rocket of a shot than ever before.

While the above clip is a great example, Juulsen’s blue line movement generally comes in a more subtle form. He prefers a quick, short series of crossovers to locate a shooting lane, where he can send a fast wrister or unload a booming slap shot towards the net. He exerts pressure on defenders by creeping in off the point, getting him closer to the net for a shot attempt.

He also impresses with his blue line activation. Juulsen will sneak in for a backdoor play, or even waltz around a player at the point and look for options down low.

Juulsen is pinching often, with 68.75% of pinches maintaining possession and the offensive zone, while 18.75% retain possession but the not the blue line. A mere 12.5% fail entirely (lost possession and blue line). It’s not just the bone-rattling hits that result in successful pinches, but also that he leads with his stick and doesn’t hesitate when making the decision.

Another area where Increased offensive zone movement and activation have benefited Juulsen is creating and exploiting passing lanes. Although Juulsen is third among Everett defenders in offensive zone pass completion rate, he averages two more such touches per game than any other defenceman.

The above clip demonstrates how Juulsen creates the passing lane with a fake shot. As the defender goes to block the shot, Juulsen sends a hard, accurate pass to his forward streaking toward the net.

This ability and/or desire to create offence from blue line passing separates him from the Silvertips’ other defenders, who typically hammer the puck around the glass if a shot isn’t available.

This difference is particularly noticeable in Juulsen’s 2.3 shot assists per game average (3.3 if including all-situations), where the second highest defender is averaging 1.67/GP.

Overall, Juulsen averages 4.5 even-strength shot contributions (shots on goal + shot assists) per game, a full two events more than the closest Everett defender.

A Look Ahead

The big question: Can Juulsen keep this up?

There’s reason to believe he can. Firstly, Juulsen is second in Corsi For with 57.79% (the third highest is 42.67). When Lucas Skrumeda, Juulsen’s long-time defensive partner and team leader in CF%, is in the lineup (he has missed 10 games), Juulsen’s CF% shoots up to the top spot at 62.11%. His willingness to shoot, ability to make his teammates better, and excellent defence mean that Everett is often dominating the shot attempts when he’s on the ice.

Secondly, Juulsen is offence is coming from a balance of shooting and playmaking. Having diversity in attack makes a player more difficult to stop. While Juulsen will go through his ups and downs this season, his presence on a low-scoring team like Everett goes a long way.

One last piece of information: Although Juulsen’s production places him outside the top-10 in WHL defencemen scoring, calculating by percentage of points on team’s goals (adjusted for games missed), Juulsen lands seventh, and by percentage of team’s goals, he’s first.

Name Team % of Points on Team's Total Goals % of Team's Total Goals
Aaron Irving EDM 36.92 10.77
Kale Clague BDN 30.51 6.78
Juuso Välimäki TC 30.21 9.38
Josh Mahura RD 29.11 10.13
Artyom Minulin SC 29.07 5.81
Noah Juulsen EVT 27.59 12.07
Connor Hobbs REG 25.45 9.09

Simply put, Noah Juulsen is an incredible defenceman at the WHL level, and there’s plenty of reasons to be excited for his future.