Thanks in part to strong late-season play, defenseman Noah Juulsen of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League could be a first-round pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
In the NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings Juulsen was No. 38 among North American skaters. In the final rankings he jumped 16 spots to No. 22. That climb up the charts was an attention-grabber, as was the strong late-season play that got him that recognition.
"He had a year where he creeped up and got better as the year went on and made us put him in our first round with the second half that he had," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "That kind of trending is a nice thing as well. You want someone that has games that were important, and these were important games for draft-eligible kids all year-round. He didn't let that put pressure on him and affect his game the wrong way; it actually helped his game and made him a better player."
The improvement Juulsen made from last season through this season was dramatic. As a WHL rookie in 2013-14 he had two goals and 10 points in 59 games. This season he had nine goals and 52 points in 68 games, and earned a chance to play in the 2015 NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game.
"I think this year I kind of got more opportunity. I played in all situations," Juulsen said. "I think just getting that opportunity helped me help my game improve a whole lot this year and just gave me a lot more confidence to be the defenseman I want to be."
While Juulsen's offense raised his stock among scouts, it was his physical game that earned him the extra ice time.
"Personally I love playing PK [penalty kill]," Juulsen said. "I've played PK growing up my whole life. I don't mind it; I like blocking shots. It's something the coaches trusted me when I was 16 and they still trusted me at 17. So I like it a lot."
Juulsen stands 6-foot-2 and at 174 pounds he has the frame to pack on even more muscle.
"One of the real attractive things about Noah is his size," Gregory said. "He's a kid that will get stronger as he matures. But he has the frame as someone that's going to be big enough to play at the next level and has unreal mobility for a guy that has good size. That combination is something that's going to be really attractive. … I think he's got good vision and can pass the puck well. He's going to put up some good points for you with setting plays up. He's a good goal scorer but he's really more of an assist guy at the next level. That's where he’ll get his points."
In addition to Juulsen's strong physical play, scouts also liked the way he was able to handle the puck and transition it up the ice.
"He's the kind of guy that can let the play develop," Gregory said. "He has the skating and the speed that he can dictate. Those things translate really well. When he's not even having his best game, because of how he skates and moves and his ability to read the play and make plays, he's still good, he'll still have some good things happen."
As Juulsen has developed, one player he's watched closely is Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa.
"I'm not as physical or as tough, but he's who I model my game after," Juulsen said. "I'm an Abbotsford [British Columbia] kid and a Canucks fan back when I was younger. He was the one I kind of always watched and he's just kind of who is my role model on the ice."
Gregory said the Bieksa comparison is an apt one for Juulsen.
"He [Juulsen] can dictate with being able to be physical and give himself space," Gregory said. "You love a guy that can play the body and then pick up the puck and move with it. It's a deadly combination. You need confidence to play with that and that's what I saw grow in his game as he progressed.
"There's a lot of guys that have that 1-on-1 thing where they can be really off and you wonder, 'Can I play him the whole game?' Well, you're not going to have to worry about that with Juulsen. He's going to be able to play all game. His potential upside is to be a horse like Bieksa and play a ton of minutes."