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Canadiens 2017 Top 25 Under 25: #8 Noah Juulsen

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The former first-round draft pick bounced back from an underwhelming offensive season and has his sights set on the Laval Rocket.

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

A big-bodied, right-handed defenceman, Surrey-native Noah Juulsen impressed from a young age. He’s an effective two-way defender, closing down opportunities in his own end and driving the puck into offensive territory.

The Montreal Canadiens selected him 26th overall from the WHL’s Everett Silvertips in the 2015 entry draft. He came with high hopes after having an excellent season, picking up 52 points in 68 games to lead Everett’s defence corps. He was ranked as the #22 skater in North America by Central Scouting leading up to the draft.

With just 10 points in his first junior season, it was in his draft year that he announced himself as a top prospect, exploding for his best offensive season to date. Playing on an Everett team which featured the Canadiens’ previous first-rounder, Nikita Scherbak, the big defenceman began playing well at both ends and using his vision and defensive zone breakout ability, earning the trust of former Jack Adams-winning coach Kevin Constantine. The result was a spectacular 52-point campaign along with a strong defensive showing, on an already defensively impressive team.

After that career year, Juulsen’s stat line saw a drop the following season, with seven goals and just 21 assists in 63 games. However, a closer look would tell anyone not to panic. Suddenly the top defender on a low-scoring team, points became scarce. Juulsen continued to execute his passing and zone exits, doing the right things but not being rewarded with as many points.

Image credit: EliteProspects

The 2016-17 season was Juulsen’s last in the CHL, his junior career ending with a respectable 0.52 points per game over 240 appearances. In his fourth full season with the Silvertips, he was named the team’s captain and saw his production return to a better pace, finishing an injury-shortened year with 34 points in 49 games.

Continuing to demonstrate his defensive prowess and hockey IQ, Juulsen played his way onto Canada’s World Junior Championship roster, and was named a WHL First-Team All-Star.

After the Silvertips were eliminated from the playoffs, he was called up by the AHL’s St. John’s Icecaps, and went scoreless in the two post-season games he got to play.

Having sustained a jaw injury at the end of 2015-16, he spent two weeks not eating solid foods, and saw his body mass drop during the off-season. He made up for it with a strong showing last year, and hopes that a rigorous training schedule this summer will fill out his frame ahead of his first professional season with the Laval Rocket.

Following the departure of highly touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the spotlight will shine more brightly on Juulsen, who now stands as the top blue-liner in the Canadiens’ prospect pool.

Voting

While the majority of votes placed Juulsen between seventh and 10th, there were three votes as high as sixth and one near the bottom of the overall rankings at 19th.

General consensus leaves him firmly among the top 10 young prospects in the organization. The EOTP community ended up slotting him in seventh place, one spot ahead of his final placement.

Top 25 Under 25 History

In his draft year two summers ago, Juulsen was 17th in this series. Last year he climbed to the 13th position despite the drop in his offensive production. He has now worked his way into the top 10, and he’s only just turned 20. EOTP readers can look forward to seeing him on this list for quite some time.

Strengths

Lauded for his ability at both ends of the rink, Juulsen’s primary focus is the defensive side of the game. Having modeled his style after former Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, he developed a tough defensive edge and sharp passing.

The ability to precisely deliver passes may be Juulsen’s biggest weapon. Now that Nathan Beaulieu and Sergachev are gone, the Canadiens will hope the puck-moving abilities of the BC-native will carry over when he makes the NHL squad.

With the puck on his stick, he has the tools and the willingness to either find a lane for a breakout pass or to carry the puck out if necessary. One thing he hasn’t been witnessed doing often is carelessly dumping the puck along the boards or chipping it high off the glass, which bodes well for an NHL team that is moving toward more of a possession style of game and will need defenders who can transition the play back to offence efficiently.

His vision and quick decision-making are hard to show with statistics, but are on display most shifts.

At 6’2” he has the frame to match the physical style he has developed. He doesn’t so much dish out punishing bodychecks as he takes a hit while holding the puck to make a play, helping his team work its way up ice. He also utilizes his strength to create space in the defensive zone and clear his goaltender’s crease.

If this summer’s development camp was any indication, his strength will continue to be a key factor as he moves into the AHL and has to deal with stronger opposition.

He hasn’t done much scoring, but Juulsen does possess a cannon of a slapshot, which has been useful when deployed on the power play. When playing with the man advantage, his puck-moving skills are more of a threat than the shot itself.

The Canadiens’ brass will enjoy how difficult he is to play against, and how hard he is to read for opponents both with and without the puck on his stick. With regular reports of his leadership and character, you have a perfect brew for a current Habs prospect.

Weaknesses

Like many defensive-minded blue-liners, an underwhelming stats line can highlight a lack of offensive prowess. Juulsen has played his CHL years on a defensive squad and shown the ability to earn the trust of a former NHL head coach, but he isn’t likely to post lofty point totals in his professional career.

As his defensive responsibilities and minutes increased, Juulsen’s share of primary points dropped, showing that he’s more effective at the transition game than at pitching in secondary scoring.

He has a rocket of a shot, but the Laval-bound player’s accuracy — or lack thereof — restricts his ability to reach the back of the net and force the opposition to respect him as a scoring option. This is something that can improve with time and experience, but it isn’t currently one of his top weapons.

In his earlier years, there was criticism about his composure in tense situations, though that hasn’t been a recurring theme in recent seasons.

Projection

Juulsen finds himself in a position where he could play himself onto the top pairing in Laval. Of right-side defenders on the depth chart, he lacks the credibility to yet pose a challenge to Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, and Shea Weber for an NHL roster spot. It’s unlikely that Juulsen will get a long opportunity to play with the Habs this year, but he may well receive a call-up or two if injuries create an opportunity.

Leaving a defensive coach to join a pro club with a former NHL blue-liner behind the bench should pan out just fine for Juulsen. Sylvain Lefebvre should be able to identify Juulsen’s talent in the defensive end and grant him a fair share of the load.

Depending on which forwards get a real look at cracking the Canadiens’ roster, it’s unclear how much scoring the Rocket will do. Should they lose some of their top talent to the big club, it’s not unreasonable for Juulsen’s stats to also be underwhelming.

At age 20, he still has time to refine his offensive game and produce more primary points. His current skill set should set him up for a power-play role in Laval as well, which, with experience, could become a key component of his game.

The Canadiens’ defence corps is averaging nearly 30 years old, meaning the decade-younger Juulsen has more potential upside than the established guard. For 2017-18, he should become a key defender for the Rocket, and increase his stock for his shot at a roster spot with Montreal.

If he continues to improve his offensive game and maintains his intelligent puck-moving play, Noah Juulsen could become a core player on the Canadiens’ back end in the near future.