It was not an easy year for Montreal Canadiens defenders. Between injuries and general underwhelming performances it was a season to forget across the board for many. Noah Juulsen was not one of those players, as he worked his way into being one of Claude Julien’s more trusted defencemen by season’s end.
Not always flashy, but undoubtedly effective in his play style, Juulsen is a coach’s dream across the board. He has a big body, which he uses to dish out devastating body checks, and a great hockey IQ that allows him to use smart positioning to keep opponents at bay. While he had his own rough patches this year on offence, his defensive game was rarely in doubt, something coaches within the Canadiens organization have praised since he made his debut in the Calder Cup Playoffs two years ago.
He’s capable of being a bigger producer in the offensive zone, but that will come as he gains experience in the professional leagues in the coming years. While not a shifty skater like Victor Mete, Juulsen is an adept puck-mover who possesses a heavy shot.
It’s worth noting that Juulsen didn’t exactly light up the scoresheet in the AHL or NHL last year, but both teams he played on were among the worst in their respective leagues. In Laval he was playing brutally tough minutes as a 20-year-old rookie after missing the start of the year with a foot injury. What is promising is that in those minutes Juulsen was thriving, and with a year under his belt, those point totals should begin to climb.
He doesn’t need to be overly flashy to be effective, and it’s rare to see him caught out of position or made to look foolish on a given night. It’s these traits that let his coaches stick by him even if he was struggling on the offensive side of things.
Across the board, the consensus is clear on Juulsen: all of the EOTP staff, in addition to the readers, believe that he is one of the Canadiens’ 10 best young players right now. Three voters (including yours truly) pegged him perfectly at ninth overall in this year’s vote, while the highest vote had him at six overall.
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* tied with Nikita Scherbak
Despite a good rookie year that culminated in regular NHL ice time, Juulsen slipped a bit in this year’s ranking. Regardless, it’s another strong showing from the first-round pick, and he’s more than earned his spot this high on our list.
Above all else, Juulsen’s biggest strength is his ability to play a reliable game at both ends of the ice, night in and night out. Always sound with his positioning, Juulsen is going to be a top option in any on-ice situation going forward, which both Claude Julien and Sylvain Lefebvre showed last season. Even with injuries they trusted the rookie defender with heavy even-strength ice time, as well as big minutes on the penalty kill.
It’s this steady play that is going to propel Juulsen to greater roles as his career progresses. With his solid skating, he fits the mould of the new generation of defencemen. He has a mean streak in him, and if given the chance he’ll take the body on any player, even going as far as to step up at his own blue line to dish out bone-jarring body checks on the opposing team.
He’s more than capable of pushing the play up the ice on his own, even if it isn’t the strongest part of his game. In Laval, he was leaned on to be that type of player from the back end, even as a rookie. He had no issues with that added burden, and was confident carrying the puck through all three zones, even leading rushes short-handed from his own end.
Noah Juulsen leads the shorthanded rush, and Adam Cracknell feeds Daniel Audette who scores his 11th of the year. pic.twitter.com/auso4WdORY— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 15, 2018
While he didn’t have a ton of chances to showcase it this season, in the offensive zone he can be a contributor in his own right. Possessing a heavy slapshot, Juulsen has the prowess to blow pucks by opposing goaltenders if he’s given a clean shooting lane.
His numbers weren’t great, but given the teams he played on this year it’s not overly surprising that he struggled to produce points. More often than not, he was working in the defensive end, either killing penalties or covering for his partner’s errors.
It’s hard to find a true weakness in his game, or at least one that would count as a significant flaw. Among the few knocks he might have are the times that he gets caught trying to do too much, putting himself out of position while attempting to make a play. It’s not a common occurrence, but there are times when instead of clearing the zone, he will attempt to carry the puck out and end up trapped by opposing forecheckers before having to turn the puck over.
Noah Juulsen caught trying to do too much and gets his pocket picked.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 25, 2018
Dennis Yan finishes the play off to tie the game. pic.twitter.com/eOv0umdWih
It’s admirable that he is trying to put that weight on his shoulders to help his team, but with some more experience he’ll learn that sometimes the safer option is the right one in certain situations.
Perhaps more a product of the environment he was in this past season, he could always bring a bit more production to the table this season. As stated above, both Laval and Montreal were disasters this past season, and playing with varying AHL talents and Karl Alzner doesn’t lend itself to significant offensive production. Depending on the league he’s playing in next year, it’s not unreasonable to expect a decent sized jump in his point totals, especially when not missing the opening months with an injury.
At this current pace, and with Shea Weber’s absence due to surgery, we’re likely to see Juulsen reprise his role in Montreal’s top four on defence, assuming he isn’t outplayed by some of the veteran players. Needless to say, this is a huge feather in the cap of the 21-year-old defender; it’s rare that anyone outside of a top-10 pick launches himself into an NHL role so quickly.
Even if he were to be bumped to the AHL at some point in the year, he would be a huge boon for Joël Bouchard’s club, and he’d have plenty of talent on defence to partner with this upcoming season. He is still young, and while he can learn plenty at the NHL level, he has the chance to learn a ton playing top-pairing minutes for the Rocket as well. There really isn’t a bad option for him this year, and it may all come down to how either club is faring, or the preference of Marc Bergevin and how he wants one of his top prospects to develop.
Regardless, it’s an exciting time, as Juulsen continues to blossom into a reliable everyday defender. While Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are fantastic players in their own right, having a youthful option in the pipeline who can step in to replace either of them should that situation arise is a welcome change in Montreal. It’s unlikely that he’ll develop into a number-one defenceman, but based on his current career arc he’ll soon be a dependable second-pairing player, or an extremely good bottom-pairing NHL blue-liner
As the current retooling goes forward, Juulsen, along with Victor Mete, will soon become a big cog in the Montreal defensive structure, and it seems he will be ready for that role.