2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen

There are many things Noah Juulsen does exceptionally well, and throwing the body is definitely one of them. | Photo: Chris Mast

While the raw production never took off, Noah Juulsen ends his junior career as a terrific player on both sides of the puck. The fourth-year blue liner took both his offensive and defensive games to new heights this season.

Juulsen’s 0.31 5v5 P1/GP was among the WHL’s best blue liners, and he took home WHL West Conference First All-Star Team honours for his combination of offensive production and defensive impact.

Speaking of defensive impact, I have a difficult time naming a prospect who was as consistently effective defensively as Juulsen.

Of all the players I tracked, spanning all three CHL leagues and five teams, no defenceman was more successful at preventing entries against than Juulsen. His near-70% prevention rate is ridiculous, completely demolishing the average rate of 42.27% and ahead of the likes of Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev, and Victor Mete.

This defensive strength enabled the Silvertips to take their already heavy usage of Juulsen to a new level, as it wasn’t uncommon for Juulsen to start virtually no 5v5 shifts in the offensive zone down the stretch.

Of all the data I tracked, the zone entry prevention rates were the one that surprised me the most, that being how high they were. Juulsen’s prevention rate is otherworldly, therefore I feel the need to write 1500 words to explore how he accomplished this.

#2) NOAH JUULSEN
Midseason: #4 | 2016: #6 | 2015: #2
Acquired: 2015, 1st round, 26th overall
Position: RD | Shoots: R
Birthdate: 1997-04-02 | Nationality: Canada
Team: Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Height: 6’2 (188cm) | Weight: 190 (89kg)

GPGAPP1G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
49122234260.240.290.690.530.3122.08%5.00%

Series Navigation:
Top 30 Prospects: Ranking Methodology – Integrating Statistics into Analysis
Top 30 Prospects: #30 – #26 – Success Rates of Swedish Jr. and USHS Defenders
Top 30 Prospects: #25 – #21 – Success Rates of CHL Overage Forwards
Top 30 Prospects: #20 – #16 – Balancing Players with Opposing Skill Sets and Development
Top 30 Prospects: #15 – #11 – Weighing perceived NHL-readiness with NHL Upside
Top 30 Prospects: #10 Will Bitten – Why His Season Was Better Than You Think
Top 30 Prospects: #9 Victor Mete – How Undersized Defenders Can Excel Defensively
Top 30 Prospects: #8 Josh Brook – Improving Shooting Location Through Movement
Top 30 Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron – Do Big Players Really Take Longer to Develop?
Top 30 Prospects: #6 Charlie Lindgren – The Reverse-VH and When Skill Takes Over
Top 30 Prospects: #5 Charles Hudon – A Case Study on the Impact of Aging for NHL Chances
Top 30 Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen – Multidimensionality in Attack
Top 30 Prospects: #3 Nikita Scherbak – Comparing Scherbak In and Out of Form
Top 30 Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen – How to Excel at Defending the Blue Line
Top 30 Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling – Full Breakdown, Importance of Little Details, and More

The answer to the question, “how is Juulsen so effective at preventing entries against” is probably quite obvious. Juulsen skates above-average, maintains tight gap control, has a strong, active stick, patience, awareness, recovery ability, and a penchant for huge hits.

However, having tools is only one part of the equation. It’s also important how those tools are utilized, and how those tools interact with one another. For example, Juulsen’s mobility enables him to maintain that tight gap control to disrupt the play his active stick. It’s that interaction between tools that this article will use to answer the question, “how is Juulsen so effective at preventing entries against?”

This article will use a selection of four clips to demonstrate how Juulsen is so effective at defending the blue line.

It’s important to discuss how these clips are selected. It’s not a random process. Over the course of the season, I gathered tons of clips. The clips are organized by the type of play they show The four clips are the highest quality clips of the four most common ways Juulsen disrupts entry attempts. This ensures that the clips picked are common plays from the player, and not irregular occurrences.

Although I’d argue that preventing the other team from breaking out of their own zone is a form of defence, this article seeks to explain why Juulsen is so effective at defending his own blue line, so we will begin with NZ defence.

Neutral Zone Defence

Juulsen is generally the type of defender who likes to establish his gap as early as possible. In many instances, his stick is in range before crossing centre ice. While Juulsen is the most successful at this, it’s not idiosyncratic as most of Everett’s defenders do the same.

The purpose of establishing gap control as early as possible is multifold. Until the puck crosses the red line, dumping the puck in is icing. A pre-red line NZ gap can slow the puck carrier down enabling the backchecking forwards to apply back pressure. Once back pressure is applied, the defender has a higher chance of successfully disrupting the play and mitigating the risk that comes with stepping up.

In the sequence below, a 3v2 situation is developing. As the puck crosses the offensive blue line, Juulsen is already a stick’s reach from the puck, while his defensive partner EVT24 (Lucas Skrumeda) is also taking a tight gap (Pic. 1). Everett has a backchecking forward in place, which enables Juulsen to slide his stick in the mix (Pic. 2). Thanks to EVT24’s tight gap on the attacker without the puck, he’s able to step up and recover the loose puck Juulsen created (Pic. 3 & 4). As a result, Everett goes back to the attack with an odd man rush. 

Not only does Juulsen exhibit awareness of his surroundings and the situation developing, he demonstrates an active stick and backwards mobility in his feet. One particularly nice element in this sequence is how Juulsen recognizes where he pushed the puck and EVT24 stepping up, so he moves backwards into the centre of the ice just in case the play goes sour.

1v1 Defence

One-on-one defence is a strength of Juulsen’s. His diverse and constantly interacting defensive toolkit is the driver of his ability to thwart controlled entry attempts.

In the sequence below, it begins with Juulsen’s player recognition. He sees the play developing out toward his side, so he steps back into the neutral zone. However, Juulsen (fairly) does not foresee the lateral pass, and thus ends up too far back. As the attacker crosses centre ice, Juulsen slows his backwards movement down, tightening his gap (Pic. 2).

As Juulsen places his stick to disrupt the puck, his eyes are locked on the attacker’s torso, not the puck (Pic. 2). This enables him to read the movement of the player better than if he were just tracking the puck. With Juulsen’s patience and stick in the way, the attacker makes a poor touch on the puck. Juulsen, while keeping his up locked on the player, flicks the puck out to the backchecking forward (Pic. 4). In this sequence, it’s Juulsen’s gap control, patience, reads, and active stick that interact to successfully defend the blue line.

The fact that Juulsen’s head is always up additionally enables him to throw the body when he sees the opportunity. While the clip below isn’t the biggest hit Juulsen threw all season, it’s one of the best displays of his tools.

As the attacking forward approaches the blue line, Juulsen moves to laterally to cut him off. At no point is Juulsen looking at the puck, instead his eyes are focused on the forward’s torso. In Pic. 1, his gap is OK, but he’s reading the forward’s shoulders. The shoulders are angled down and towards centre ice, indicating the attacker is going to make a lateral cut.

Since Juulsen is focused on shoulders, he knows where the forward is going, and adjusts his skates to meet the attacker (Compare the angling of his skates in Pic. 1 & 2). A particularly interesting part of this sequence is where Juulsen’s stick is placed as he goes into the hit: It’s focused right on the puck, and actually hits the puck before Juulsen throws the body. 

One-on-one situations have become Juulsen’s calling card defensively. His mobility is good, but the way he reads attackers, engages with his stick, and establishes tight gap control takes his defence to the next level. That level being, really freakin’ good.

Tracking & Maintaining (or, Correcting) Gap

One of the most enjoyable match ups the past few years has been Mathew Barzal versus Noah Juulsen. Barzal is arguably the WHL’s best centre, so it’s not surprise that Juulsen has been leaned on heavily against the star of a divisional rival.

In this sequence, Barzal crosses the blue line with Juulsen having taken a passive gap. When Barzal leans on the brakes, Juulsen quickly follows by leaning hard on his inside edge to close the gap (Pic. 1).

Barzal peels up high to escape Juulsen, but Juulsen recognizes that he can follow since he has support. Juulsen then places his stick in the inside lane to prevent Barzal from making a pass, while reaching out his free hand to push Barzal (Pic. 2).

As the sequence finishes, Juulsen takes his free hand to spin Barzal around and then gives him a mugging. After this doing so, Juulsen fires the puck to a teammate flying the offensive zone, and preventing the Thunderbirds from establishing offensive pressure.

In this sequence, Juulsen demonstrates his quick footwork, smart stick placement, and lack of hesitation in his defensive game. To finish it off, he shows his strength when throwing Barzal to the ice.

To recap, Juulsen isn’t just highly effective at defending his blue line–he stopped a ridiculous 68.89% of all controlled entry attempts in the games I tracked. He accomplished this through an interaction of key defensive tools, controlled aggression, and awareness.

It begins with the neutral zone, where he establishes a tight gap as often as possible. A combination of four-way mobility, anticipation, and reading the attacker enable him to maintain such an aggressive gap while rarely getting beat. This same combination of tools, plus an active stick and willingness to throw the body, make him tough to beat in one-on-one situations. If he does surrender the blue line too easily, his tools and controlled aggression allow him to quickly close the gap, and prevent the opposition from establishing offensive zone pressure or generating a chance.

The Report

After 2014-2015’s offensive evaporation, I remained a believer in Juulsen’s offensive ability. After the season he just had, this is the most confident I’ve ever been in him. Juulsen improved his 5v5 P1/GP production to 0.31 and P1/GP to 0.53—both by far the highest in WHL career. He was used in a rather ridiculously heavy defensive role this season, receiving increasingly limited offensive zone starts as the season wore on—and thrived. Juulsen earned Western Conference First All-Star Team honours for his strong season.

As discussed, Juulsen excels at defending, particularly off the rush. A combination of decent four-way mobility, aggressive gap control, an active stick, and plenty of patience enables him to breakup rushes extremely effectively. Although the open ice hits have decreased in frequency since his warpath-like WHL rookie season, they’re just as seismic when he finds an unfortunate target coming through the neutral zone.

I had two major concerns about Juulsen’s game coming into the season: Slot protection and puck decisions around the net. He improved both of these significantly. He’s far more aggressive on attackers, and protects the slot as good as anyone. He’s legitimately nasty with his stick, and mean on the body along the boards. Juulsen displays great strength in battles, and has a slick stick to steal pucks. Mistakes are rare, but generally fall in one or two categories: A poor puck management decision behind his own net, typically from being too relaxed, or sprawling out the ice to a block a passing lane without success.

With the highest success rate with controlled exits of the prospects I tracked, Juulsen also thrives in transition. He’s primarily a pass exit player (84% pass exits), which was a staple up and down Everett’s team. While he has shown the ability to carry the puck, and make some deft moves in the process, he’s best when using his laser beam outlet pass to start a quick counter. He passes the puck at noticeably faster rate than other WHLers, and always has his head up scanning for options. When he decides to carry the puck out of his own zone, he’s successfully gains the offensive zone with control nearly 70% of the time.

While Juulsen’s offensive numbers haven’t been too impressive, he’s a capable offensive player. A shooting machine, Juulsen hit double digits in shot attempts in quite a few games I tracked. He’s not a true lane creator or a player who constantly seeks to improve his shooting location, but has developed enough patience and quickness to walk the line looking for lanes. While he can overwhelm goaltenders with power occasionally, he’s best as an intelligent shooter who keeps shots low for rebounds and redirections. One-timers, slapshots, and wristers are all common from his stick.

Over the last couple seasons Juulsen’s confidence in playmaking in the offensive zone has improved. His primary shot assists per game (tracked data once again) was second to only Sergachev, and ahead of prospects like Victor Mete, Simon Bourque, and Olli Juolevi. He makes the odd-high skill pass, but prefers to keep simple, quick puck movement as his main weapon. He excels at maintaining the offensive zone (pinches resulting in failed exits + blue line holds), thanks to aggressive pinching mentality (in which he loves to throw the body) and hand-eye coordination.

Every now and then Juulsen will do something like this, but he’s not quite as active offensively as you’d expect for a player with this skill set:

Juulsen’s a complete player, but definitely veers more towards the defensive side. I’d argue there’s definitely a part of that stems from the team he played for, but I don’t think he’s significant offensive catalyst otherwise. He will likely join the Laval Rockets next season, where I don’t think it’s unlikely he starts to hold down top pairing minutes with decent success by January.

Ranking Explanation: As mentioned in Scherbak’s article, the top-three are separated by less than one place in the average of my rankings. So, it’s tough to explain why Juulsen is second, I’ll explain why he’s top ranked defender, which will hopefully lead into why he’s ranked #2.

Offence is the big question with his production never really taking off. Peeling back the layers a bit, like examining his TM INV% or 5v5 P1/GP, paints a friendly picture of his production, but it’s just on the outside of the elite looking in.

Those flashes of dynamic offensive skill like the clip above were just that–flashes. It’s fair to wonder how much more offence Juulsen would’ve produced on a higher-scoring team with a structure that promotes offensive creativity from blue liners. Having finished up four years in ‘Tips’ system, I don’t think it’s likely that Juulsen starts suddenly making those offensive plays with consistency. The most difficult part of evaluating him has been that those flashes happen with enough regularity to know they’re there, but not often enough to believe they’re a key piece of his skill set just being masked by a defensive system.

If there’s a trend in Juulsen’s offensive game, it’s the flashes of high skill appear when he doesn’t have another option. In the sequence just above the ranking explanation, Juulsen enters the zone the second time because he has no passing options. His choices are retreat, dump the puck in, or carry it–and he’s chooses wisely. In the rare occasional that he goes coast-to-coast and nutmegs a defender along the way, or looks more like a skilled playmaker, these plays are usually the best option he has available. The flashes of high skill occur when it’s the best option (i.e., when he has no easy passing outlets and has space to work with). He recognizes space, but rarely creates it. He won’t take risks that could increase his offensive ability unless that risk is mitigated by it being the only option and/or having support. His skill level is good enough to provide medium-to-high reward, but it’s lessened by his low-risk nature.

I still think Juulsen does enough offensively to garner points at the next level, and even contribute on the PP. He’s a smart, efficient passer with a big shot that he uses just as must to create opportunities as he does to find twine. Combine this with a highly effective pass-heavy transition game and I believe he has the makings of a top-four defenceman.

Of the three defencemen in the prospect pool I believe have #4 upside, Juulsen is the one I’m most confident in. He’s not too far behind Brook or Mete in offensive zone chance creation, and could be the best of the trio in this regard at the professional level because of his efficiency and intelligence. He was better in transition than Mete with the numbers I tracked thanks to his passing. (But there’s no doubt that Mete’s footwork, puck skills, and reads are all substantially ahead of Juulsen’s–projecting is key.)

Combine all of these elements–defensive and transitional effectiveness and efficiency, pace across all three zones, and decent offensive abilities–and I think his upside around a #4 defencemen or maybe a decent #3, if he makes the NHL.

Notes:

  1. All the information is “in my opinion.”
  2. The ranking likely has limited-to-no value. Think of the ranking as a way to catalogue players, notes, and data in a non-alphabetical way. The information within the profiles is far, far more valuable.
  3. I mentioned I’m not a scout right? If not, I’m not a scout.
  4. I appreciate all questions, comments, and criticism. You can reach me on Twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). You can also tell me I suck. I don’t care.
  5. AHL/CHL/USHL Stats: Prospect-Stats.com | NCAA Stats: CollegeHockeyInc.com | SuperElit Stats: Stats.SweHockey.se | NHL Stats: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

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2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen

While the raw production never took off, Noah Juulsen ends his junior career as a terrific player on both sides of the puck. The fourth-year blue liner took both his offensive and defensive games to new heights this season. Juulsen’s 0.31 5v5 P1/GP was among the WHL’s best blue liners, and he took home WHL […]

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