For the last two years, if Noah Juulsen didn’t have bad luck he’d have no luck at all. Freak injuries and subsequent migraines from the resulting nerve issues kept him off the ice more than he was on it.
He will never be confused for an offensive defenceman. His 52-point season in his second year in the WHL seems like the anomaly (although on a per-game pace his 2016-17 season comes close). As a professional, he has three goals and 14 assists between the NHL and AHL in 91 games.
The biggest story for Juulsen is that games-played column. Sustaining facial fractures after two pucks to the face in the same game in 2018-19, Juulsen has had difficulty staying on the ice. The resulting injuries led to nerve-related issues that took him out of training camp and led to a late start to his AHL season. After 12 games, the migraines returned and he remained out for most of the season.
The key for Juulsen is that 13th game. He returned just in time for the final Laval Rocket match before COVID-19 shut things down. That game was his best in two seasons, according to Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard.
Most important to Juulsen, it meant he didn’t have to think during the entire break about how he would feel when he returned to the ice. It also allowed him to be part of the Canadiens’ return-to-play training camp, and he was on the roster in the bubble for the post-season.
The votes for Juulsen are about as wide as for anyone in this section of the rankings. His high was seventh, while his lowest grade was 24th. The main issue with Juulsen is trying to balance the prospect we last saw in a full season three years ago and the 23-year-old who has played just 13 games since the calendar changed to 2019.
I had him ranked 12th, which is where he ended up in the overall ranking, as I see him right in the mix with the players vying for NHL spots.
Top 25 Under 25 History
It has been a roller-coaster ride for Juulsen in our rankings. He entered as the lowest-ranked first-round pick since the project started, and steadily rose to the top 10 before his injury troubles. The subsequent drop is a combination of added depth to the organization and playing so few games over the past two seasons.
History of #12
Juulsen’s strength is his defensive play. He has always been reliable in his own zone, and that hasn’t changed since he was drafted.
Bouchard compared Juulsen to a shepherd’s pie last year because he plays a strong and simple game on and off the puck. He’s an asset to a team’s penalty kill, and can be trusted to hold on to leads because he makes the right play more often than not. Players who play the kind of game Juulsen plays are assets to a team, especially in the playoffs, because they make the play that is available to them and tend to not complicate things.
Juulsen isn’t just a guy who you can pin in his own zone, though. At his best, he’s able to make a quick first pass and help a team move the puck. He also skates well.
The style that he plays makes it easy to see a path back to the NHL, and there’s still room for his game to evolve at the professional level because of all the missed development to date.
Let’s face it: Juulsen needs to stay healthy. I won’t say that he’s proven that he’s injury prone, but he’s had issues staying on the ice throughout his career. A quick look at the photos in his Top 25 Under 25 history includes various ones of him wearing a full cage due to facial injuries.
The good news is that the most recent injury was finally figured out and he has felt no ill effects since his last return and throughout his time on the ice with the Canadiens in the summer. Being able to put that behind him will be a huge step forward.
As someone who keeps his game simple, there is the other side to that as he has not been able to control possession while on the ice at the NHL level. Through his 44 career NHL games, he has been below team average when it comes to the percentage of shot attempts when he is on the ice. A lot of this is because he was (and is) still developing at the NHL level.
Juulsen will have a lot of work to do to earn a spot in the NHL lineup. If you assume that Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot, and Joel Edmundson are locks, that leaves just two spots for Brett Kulak, Alexander Romanov, Victor Mete, Cale Fleury, Xavier Ouellet, Gustav Olofsson, Otto Leskinen, and everyone else in the mix.
After signing a one-year contract for the 2020-21 season, he will need to prove his worth in order to stick around what is becoming a very crowded blue line for the Canadiens.
He will need to clear waivers in order to go to the American Hockey League, which means the team risks losing their 2015 first-round pick. They can keep him as an extra body on the blue line even if he doesn’t earn a regular spot, but that goes counter to what is necessary for Juulsen right now: he needs to play hockey.
It feels like he has been around forever, but it’s important to note that he is still only 23 years old, and won’t turn 24 until April. His career hasn’t gone the way he or the organization would have liked, but there’s still a player with potential here.
He won’t ever get the missed development time back, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for him to grow into an NHL regular. There is a lot of competition at the professional level already, and more is still to come with a lot of younger prospects rising up the organization’s depth chart.
The best thing for the Canadiens and Juulsen may be for him to get more time in the AHL if he isn’t able to grab hold of an NHL opening. With the uncertainty surrounding the start of the upcoming season, it’s just another obstacle for him to overcome.