EVERETT — A deflected puck left the Xfinity Arena ice surface at practice last week and whizzed past a ducking James Stucky.
The vulcanized black rubber missed the Everett Silvertips’ long-time equipment manager, but veteran Tips defenseman Noah Juulsen came over to check on the man most call “Stucks” and the two shared a laugh.
Stucks has spent 13 years in Everett dodging pucks. Juulsen, meanwhile, has spent his three seasons in Everett throwing his body in front of them. It’s unpleasant and it’s often painful, but you have to go “into harm’s way” if you’re going to play for Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine.
And no Silvertip better exemplifies that hard-hitting, gritty, warrior mentality taught by the coaching staff than Juulsen.
“I think that’s something Noah follows very well,” said overage defenseman Lucas Skrumeda, who spent last season as Juulsen’s defensive partner. “He blocks a lot of shots, he hits a lot of guys and his intensity shows up in practice and in games.”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Juulsen was Montreal’s first-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft, and he joins Skrumeda and fellow 19-year-old Kevin Davis as the most experienced Tips defensemen.
“(Warrior mentality) is a big part of our game and it has to be for us to be successful,” said Tips forward Patrick Bajkov, who shares a billet family with Juulsen. “Obviously we have a lot of young guys out here so there are a lot of young D-men who could look up to him in a physical way and the way he carries himself.”
As in years past, the success of this year’s Everett team will be predicated on defense, and Juulsen represents the most important piece in what undoubtedly will be his final WHL season before he forgoes an overage season to turn professional.
Forged in the Fraser Valley
Abbotsford, British Columbia, lies directly across the border from Sumas, Washington, some 90 miles from Xfinity Arena in Everett.
But for 15-year-old Noah Juulsen, Everett was an unfamiliar location when the Tips called his name in the fourth round of the 2012 WHL bantam draft. A quick visit to Google Maps and he realized it was only a couple hours from home.
“I was pretty excited about that,” said Juulsen, whose parents, Neil and Kimberly, attend most home games. “Most guys tend to want to be closer to home, but in the end, once you get to where you are, there are a lot of good guys on your team and you have a lot of fun.”
The third of four Juulsen children, Noah began skating at age 3, first in the Cloverdale area of Surrey, British Columbia, and continuing when the family moved to Abbotsford when he was in elementary school.
Neil, a firefighter for the city of Surrey, grew up playing football in Tsawwassen. Neither he nor Kimberly have a hockey background, but Noah’s older brothers, Tyler and Nick, played minor hockey before moving on to men’s leagues. Younger sister Kaitlyn played until she graduated from high school last year.
Noah played minor and bantam hockey in Abbotsford. He tallied six goals and 19 assists in 35 games with the major midget Fraser Valley Thunderbirds of the BCMMHL in the 2012-13 season. He appeared in one game with the Tips as a 15-year-old and entered the Tips’ 2013 training camp with an eye on making the team in Constantine’s first season of his second stint as Everett’s head coach.
Sixteen-year-old players frequently make an impact at the forward position in the WHL, but 16-year-old defensemen are rare. Yet, both Juulsen and Davis made the team out of training camp in 2013 and were among the top four defensemen as the Tips finished third in the U.S. Division.
“When you can do that, you know that you’re a pretty good player,” Constantine said. “We saw that both those guys were going to be pretty good players and the evidence was that they could survive in the league as a 16-year-old with regular minutes.”
In fact, the Tips carried a quartet of 16-year-olds during the first season of Constantine’s return as forwards Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne also appeared in more than 50 games.
A magical season
It turned out that rookie season was a precursor to the Silvertips’ most successful season in more than half a decade as the 2014-15 Tips won their first U.S. Division title in seven years. All four returning sophomores played meaningful roles and now form the cornerstone of the team.
“There is a lot of pride for us as a group,” Juulsen said. “We made the team as 16-year-olds and came back as 17-year-olds, got a banner and we’ve been in the playoffs every year and done pretty well. We’re hoping this year we can get a little further.”
Juulsen played in the 2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and was named the Tips’ Most Dedicated Player as he steadily rose up the NHL draft projection charts. He tallied nine goals and 43 assists during the regular season, a significant jump from the two goals and eight assists he tallied as a rookie.
“His offensive ability to use his shot and get some points was dramatically improved from Year 1 to Year 2 in terms of results, but I think the core of his game is not that,” Constantine said. “The core of his game is work and compete and be a warrior and find a way of getting better. There has been steady progress with that.”
The Canadiens saw enough to select him No. 26 overall in the 2015 draft and Juulsen participated in Montreal training camp and got into one preseason game before the Canadiens sent him back to Everett where he teamed with Skrumeda.
“He just brings it every night,” said Skrumeda, the more loquacious of Everett’s top defensive pairing. “He’s a very good skater and he makes very good puck decisions. He communicates very well on the ice and makes things easy for me.
“He won’t say a lot in the room, but he’ll say it when something needs to be said,” Skrumeda continued. “I think he more or less leads by example out there. Guys follow how hard he works on the ice and how competitive he is.”
One last hurrah
Juulsen is currently away at the Montreal Canadiens’ camp, but at age 19, he isn’t expected to make the team this year. Just like the WHL, it usually takes more time for a young defenseman to stick in the NHL than it does for a forward.
“Obviously going (into camp) this year you know how it happens, you know how it works,” Juulsen said. “I think you just got to go in there and give it all you’ve got.”
He will be eligible to play in the American Hockey League next year as a 20-year-old, and is expected to take that leap. But when he will stick with the Canadiens is anyone’s guess.
“He has really good passing basics and he’s got a hard shot that’s heavy and effective and creates second opportunities,” Constantine said. “I think the challenge for Noah right now is to solve things with puck movement quick. Sometimes I think he wants to move it by trying to skate it and carry it himself. That’s fine in certain situations, but I think those situations will disappear more and more as he moves up and the ability to see and make a good first pass and contribute offensively later or join the play later, I think that’s going to be a real key for him.”
Juulsen could miss several games depending on how long the Canadiens keep him in training camp. He also stands a good chance to make the Team Canada roster for the World Junior Championship in January after he was among the final cuts in last year’s World Juniors training camp.
The remaining chances to watch Everett’s most recent first-rounder in person are dwindling. But what won’t dwindle are the grit and effort that No. 3 brings to the ice every night.