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A natural warrior

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Noah Juulsen is steadily assuming a leadership role on the Everett Silvertips’ back end, and embracing the responsibility that comes with it.

In the midst of his third full-time WHL campaign, the 18-year-old rearguard continues to progress nicely under the watchful eye of veteran bench boss Kevin Constantine, who speaks rather highly of Juulsen’s willingness to take younger players under his wing to ease them along in their transition to playing the Silvertips’ brand of hockey.

Photo Credit: Chris Mast

“That’s probably where his comfort level is right now. In Noah’s case, it isn’t necessarily about telling someone his own age or someone older than him what he thinks they should be doing. I think his comfort level is with younger players coming up. That’s great to see. I think that’s how you start your leadership career,” offered Constantine, who has coached Juulsen since his arrival in Everett on a full-time basis back in 2013-14. “Come next year, he will carry a huge mantle of leadership on his shoulders here. I think he’ll have the confidence and realize he’s got the experience to do it, too. The old saying – ‘A leader says what’s right, not what’s popular’ – is where I see Noah being by the time next season comes around. I hope he continues to grow in that direction, and I hope it starts with being a little bit of a voice in the locker room.”

All signs suggest Juulsen will do just that – and a lot more – as his time in Washington State marches on. Right now, though, the Abbotsford, BC native is just going about his business while trying to set a good example for the up-and-coming crop of Silvertips to follow in the early stages of their respective WHL careers.

“Coach has given me a little bit more responsibility this year. I’m one of the older guys on D now, so it’s all about showing the younger guys the ropes. You can’t let them go without some direction. They’ve got to buy into our systems. We just got [Buffalo Sabres prospect] Brycen Martin in late November, so I’m helping him figure everything out,” shared Juulsen, who has three goals, 11 points and 23 penalty minutes in 24 games with Everett during the 2015-16 campaign. “As D-men, that’s one of the things we’re trying to do as a group. We’ve got a couple of older guys and a couple of younger guys. We’re just trying to get those younger guys in, show them what to do and help them out when we can.”

It’s clearly paying dividends for the Silvertips so far this season, especially when it comes to keeping the puck out of their own net. Constantine’s squad has held their opponents to just 62 goals through 29 games. That’s tops in the WHL. Carter Hart, meanwhile, has been outstanding between the pipes, picking up all 17 of Everett’s victories on the year, while amassing a 1.90 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.

“We’re sacrificing our bodies. We’re blocking shots. We’re not letting pucks get through to the net, which I think has helped us out a lot. We’re winning stick battles in front, and coming out on top in more of those than we were last year or the year before,” explained Juulsen, who has spent the majority of the season playing alongside 19-year-old Lucas Skrumeda, while also being partnered with Martin at times, too. “The D-men are also getting the pucks up into our forwards’ hands faster so we can go into the O-zone and get our offense going. That, along with great goaltending, has all been key for us.”

Photo Credit: Chris Mast

As for Juulsen’s individual game, things continue to trend in the right direction. While he isn’t putting up points at the rate he did last year, Constantine really likes what the Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2015 brings to his hockey club every single night.

“He’s got a pretty accurate shot. It’s got velocity. Some goalies might be able to handle it and control the puck, but a lot of the time it creates rebound situations for other guys. That’s really where I’ve seen his improvement. He’s also a guy out there playing against the other team’s top players. He’s doing a good of job of making it frustrating for them to get scoring chances and put up points,” explained Constantine, who, in addition to being a fan of Juulsen’s work quarterbacking the Silvertips’ top power play unit, is also a strong supporter of his pupil’s penchant for making opponents pay by throwing his weight around.

“Noah is a warrior. He’s a natural warrior. That’s what I think is so appealing about his game. We’re a team of warriors playing a team game. We believe in team, structure and skill, but we still put ‘warrior’ as the first and most important word. Noah represents that for us,” added Constantine, who boasts over three decades of coaching experience, including NHL stints in San Jose, Pittsburgh and New Jersey. “He’s got no problem being in any battle or physical confrontation, no problem throwing his body in front of a shot to make good defensive plays, and no problem working hard in practice and games. It’s all there.”

Like with anything, though, there’s always room for improvement. In Juulsen’s case, it primarily revolves around decision-making in a variety of game situations. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise given his young age.

“In terms of making Noah better, I think part of it for me is about choices – choices when to shoot, when to pass on the power play, when to be physical and when being physical is a waste of time and energy. In years past, he would engage in that 100 percent of the time, but I think you need to pick and choose because sometimes hitting a guy just takes you out of position. Even choices on breakouts – when is it time to carry the puck, when is it time to move it, or when is it time to simply get it off the glass and gain some ice,” mentioned Constantine, who says the 6-foot-2, 186-pound defenseman takes coaching to heart and is a sponge when it comes to absorbing information. “Sometimes, Noah might almost try to do more than situations allow for in a game or even a particular shift. The lesson that he’s learning is how to be a warrior, care for the team and play a good individual game all within the confines of what’s available to him. It’s a great learning experience. He’ll get better and better at it as the year goes on.”

An extended stay in Montreal this past summer likely helped Juulsen in that department, too, particularly when he suited up for his first career NHL pre-season game on October 1 against the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.

“What really stood out was the way the guys think the game so quickly. I came into my first game and it’s a lot faster than you would think. For them to be able to play that way every night, and think that way and put up points the way they do, it’s pretty amazing,” shared Juulsen, who missed out on the Canadiens’ rookie camp due to a concussion, but remained in Montreal for treatment before heading back to the Silvertips. “I think I gained confidence from that experience. They showed they trusted me and had confidence in me by keeping me up there for a while. I was really happy with my game. I kept it simple and I just played my style of hockey.”

That playing style has Juulsen in prime position to secure a spot on Team Canada for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Finland. One of only two right-handed shooting defensemen still in the running to ply their trade overseas for real come Boxing Day against Team USA, the Habs’ prospect has a good shot at making one of his childhood dreams come true. He won’t have to wait too much longer to find out, as Hockey Canada is expected to announce the 22-man roster by December 20.

“It would mean everything. It’s every kid’s dream to be on the World Junior team and get that opportunity. Hopefully, everything goes well and I’ll make it. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” offered Juulsen, who claimed a silver medal as a member of Team Canada Pacific at the 2014 World U-17 Hockey Challenge. “Looking over this group, I have a feeling it’s going to be a really special team.”

And, even though Constantine would be without Juulsen’s services for a lengthy period of time if he manages to crack the Canadian roster, the prospect of seeing his charge star on the international stage would more than make up for it.

“We hope that he gets the opportunity. We’ll miss him very much while he’s gone, but we know that we’ll also be getting back a young man that will have grown from the opportunity and the process involved. It just adds to his growth and development,” concluded Constantine, who will surely be paying close attention to Hockey Canada’s announcement in several days’ time. “His attributes stand out immediately. We hope Noah makes it. We want nothing but the best for him. He’s already provided a lot for us, so hopefully he gets this reward for how hard he’s worked on his game.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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