Silvertips’ Juulsen jockeys for role at World Junior Championship

By Glen Erickson
Noah Juulsen - Everett Silvertips

Photo: Everett Silvertips defenseman and Montreal Canadiens prospect Noah Juulsen has posted three goals and 10 points in 20 games so far in the 2015-16 season (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

 

When teams face the Everett Silvertips these days, they can expect at least 20 minutes or so of real hard hockey.

All coaches and players will tell us it is all about playing hard for the entire 60 minutes, but when the Silvertips take the ice, the opposition now knows it will have to contend with the skills and ferocity of defenseman Noah Juulsen (MTL) for at least a third of the tilt. While the veteran rearguard patrols the blueline, he logs plenty of ice time while eyeing a job in professional hockey. One could say he is leaving his mark on WHL opponents.

“I think just getting bigger and stronger, my quickness and agility,” Juulsen said when asked about the keys to his development this season. “If I keep working on my body, just the quickness as my legs get stronger, it will help me a lot.”

The “body” Juulsen speaks of comes in the form of a 6’2”, 185-pound frame that he willfully and effectively imposes on opponents. And while he can make life miserable for others with his physical play, Juulsen can also turn heads with his offensive skill set.

As a 16-year-old, Juulsen didn’t necessarily wow anyone with 10 points in 59 games, but there was evidence that he was a proficient puck mover. Then last season, he scored nine times and added 43 assists in 68 games. It was a breakout season by all accounts, a performance that kept the attention of NHL scouts throughout the campaign.

Hockey’s Future spoke with Juulsen in Kelowna before the first game of the annual CHL Canada Russia Series, where the 18-year-old scored once for Team WHL in a 7-3 victory.

Where it all began

The WHL is full of players with roots in the Lower Mainland, the label applied to the city of Vancouver and surrounding the area on British Columbia’s west coast. A short drive inland to the Abbottsford and Chilliwack region lands one in what has become quite the hockey hotbed. Of note is the Yale Academy, a program that has evolved in recent years to the point that it is consistently helping to produce some very elite talent.

“I played bantam hockey in Abbottsford, then moved on to major midget with the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds,” Juulsen said when asked about his minor hockey days. “I was part of the Yale Academy, but we didn’t have as many teams back then as they do now. There was no U16, U18. It was just practice group A, practice group B. It was more about skills development back then.”

To name just a few, the program can claim the likes of Juulsen, Shea Theodore (ANA), Jake Virtanen (VAN), Matt Revel of the Kamloops Blazers and Mitch Skapski of the Saskatoon Blades.

“Yeah, that’s quite a few guys from that program,” Juulsen said. “I still run into some of them during the season, then back at home during the summer for sure.”

At the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, Everett made Juulsen their fourth round pick, 70th overall. It was at this same edition of WHL festivities that the Silvertips selected highly-touted, American-born forward Auston Matthews (2016) in the third round. While Matthews never did report to Everett, electing instead to play in Switzerland this season, the Silvertips have certainly gotten full value from Juulsen.

“I didn’t really know where Everett was when they picked me,” Juulsen laughed. “But it was neat to find out it was only going to be about an hour from home. It’s really been a treat for me. My family comes down a lot, family and friends. Everyone comes down from time to time.

“The fan base is just incredible. They really get into the rivalries we have with other teams. We’re getting 5,000 fans a night. It’s just unreal.”

The Habs come calling

While Juulsen was a player of note for much of his NHL Draft year, it was his play during the second half of the season that garnered increased attention from the hockey world. A couple of factors fell into place for Juulsen, primarily a trip to St. Catherines, Ontario.

“I think just the confidence after the Top Prospects Game gave me a boost,” Juulsen said. “The first half of the season was good, but coming into the second half, things kind of took off.”

It also didn’t hurt to have a star in the making in the Silvertips lineup last season. Forward Nikita Scherbak (MTL) was an important piece of the puzzle last season after coming over early on in a trade with the Saskatoon Blades. Scherbak arrived in Everett with a signed NHL contract, courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens.

“The power play helped me a lot and Nikita was a huge guy on our team, a game changer,” Juulsen said. “He could have a three-goal game on his own and sometimes that was all we’d need to win. He was a game-changer for us and I think he helped me with a lot of my points total as well.”

Coincidentally, Juulsen was selected by the Habs at the 2015 NHL Draft in the first round, 26th overall, in exactly the same spot they chose Scherbak at the 2014 draft.

“Oh yeah, we bumped into each other at development and at the main camp,” Juulsen smiled.

Montreal signed Juulsen to an entry-level contract on July 9.

“It was real exciting,” Juulsen said of the NHL Draft experience in Sunrise, Florida. “I sat there for however long we sat there, maybe three hours? I was nervous the whole time.

“I didn’t know if I’d go in the first round or second round. I just had no idea. It could have been third round. But the minute you hear your name called, it’s an unbelievable feeling. No one really gets it unless they’ve had the opportunity. It’s amazing, every kid’s dream.”

The tasks at hand

As the current WHL campaign progresses, Juulsen finds himself among the elite in the league, a signed junior with leadership responsibilities in Everett. It’s all about the circle of life in junior hockey as players develop along their respective hockey paths.

Juulsen is playing under the tutelage of former NHL head coach Kevin Constantine, a man with extensive knowledge and a lengthy history in Everett. Juulsen understands he is in pretty good hands.

“I think he knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about, for sure,” Juulsen said. “He’s been in the NHL. He understands the game. Sure, he’s hard on us sometimes, but we need that. We have to stay on top of things.”

A rather quirky early-season schedule greeted the Silvertips this season, with fewer mid-week games as play got underway. Through November 29th, Everett was among the WHL teams that had played the least number of games. The Silvertips have gone 14-7-0-2 in 23 games so far, which keeps them firmly in the hunt for a post-season berth as they approach the quarter pole.

“I think so far this year we’re doing all right,” Juulsen said. “We’re getting into the swing of having more games now. We started off with about one game a week, which is kind of tough. You wait all week and then play finally, then another week off. We’re all starting to pick it up now.”

Juulsen is excited about the group in Everett this season, after graduating some key 20-year-olds. He finds himself playing alongside second-year rearguard Lukas Skrumeda in five-on-five situations. Juulsen will also see plenty of ice time on specialty teams.

“On the power play, we use one defenseman,” said Juulsen, a right-handed shooter. “I’m up top, with Matt Fonteyne, Patrick Bajkov, Graham Millar and Carson Stadnyk.”

With team goals aplenty in Everett this season, Juulsen is also on the radar for Canada’s entry at the 2016 World Junior Championship. He was among 13 defensemen at the Hockey Canada’s Summer Development Camp. Juulsen is philosophical about his chances to make the grade and represent Canada.

“I think you’ve got to play your game and not try to do too much, just do what the coaches want you to do,” Juulsen said. “And sometimes that means you have to be ready to play a different role on these world junior teams. I think as long as I apply what the coaches tell me to, I should be okay.”

Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51