EVERETT — Xfinity Arena is empty, and not a sound can be heard.
It’s a typical practice afternoon for the Everett Silvertips. The players and coaches have yet to take the ice, and nothing greets a visitor other than a clean, shiny sheet of ice and several water bottles lined up along the rail of the home bench.
The first sign of stirring comes from the tunnel leading back to Everett’s locker room, and inevitably the first player to emerge and step onto the ice has No. 3 on the back of his forest-green helmet.
It’s just one small illustration of why Noah Juulsen won the Silvertips’ first ever Most Dedicated Player award.
Juulsen’s dedication to his craft has turned him into one of Everett’s standout players, and the young defenseman will be counted upon to play a significant role in the Silvertips’ first-round playoff series against the Spokane Chiefs.
“I think I’ve always worked pretty hard,” Juulsen said. “I try to have a good work ethic every day.”
Juulsen, a native of Abbotsford, B.C., played a big part in Everett winning the U.S. Division championship. He and Ben Betker comprise the top defensive pairing on a Tips team that allowed the second-fewest goals in the WHL. Juulsen also topped Everett’s blueliners in points with 52 (nine goals, 43 assists) in 68 games. He was given the Most Dedicated Player award, formerly the Coaches Award, during the Tips’ year-end awards ceremony following Saturday’s home finale.
Juulsen’s accomplishments sometimes make it hard to remember he’s still just 17 years old.
“Players reach that kind of (dedication) somewhere along the way, but every human matures at a different pace,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “It was post college and into my mid-20s before I think I had a clue about the right way to go about certain things. He just has that at a younger age than some guys normally would. It’s a big part of why he’s been able to steadily get better at the game. He just works at the game.”
Juulsen is in his second season with the Tips. Last season he was a pleasant surprise, being able to take a regular shift on defense and compete in his own end as a 16-year-old rookie. Offensively, however, he was little more than an afterthought, contributing just 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 59 games.
This season Juulsen has provided the same level of defensive play, despite being asked to play a larger role against the opposition’s top offensive performers. But where Juulsen really broke out is on the offensive end. Juulsen was placed on one of Everett’s power-play units and has been an integral figure. His shot from the point is in many ways the focal part of the power play as the opposition is forced to account for it. As a result he finished eighth in the league with 23 power-play assists.
“All we knew is he had a really hard shot, the type of shot that has to be a part of a good power play,” Constantine said. “It’s heavy, it creates rebounds, it goes in the net on its own. We knew we had to work that into our power play somehow.”
The increased offensive production — Juulsen increased his scoring by more than 400 percent — even caught Juulsen by surprise.
“Coming in I thought I might try to go for double my points,” Juulsen said. “It kind of went beyond.”
The Everett coaching staff aren’t the only ones who have noted Juulsen’s progress. The NHL has also been put on notice. Juulsen was 38th among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Service’s midterm rankings. That projects Juulsen to be picked somewhere between the second and fourth rounds of this year’s NHL draft.
“He’s certainly garnered tremendous attention by the NHL,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “He’ll certainly be a draft pick. It will be interesting in the end to see where he ends up being picked. He’s had a really good year. But when you’re around Noah day-in and day-out it’s not surprising where he’s gotten to because he’s a very committed and very focused young man. He already has a real pro mentality to his approach, not only with what he does on the ice, but also off the ice with how he looks after himself and his commitment to his studies.
“He has an approach you would expect form a 25- or 26-year-old, as opposed to a 17-year-old. He’s got it figured out.”
Now, Juulsen and the Tips will have to figure out the Chiefs. The best-of-seven first round series between Everett, the top seed from the U.S. Division, and Spokane, the top wild-card entrant, begins with Game 1 Friday at Xfinity Arena.
“I think it will be a pretty good series,” Juulsen said. “We’ve battled with them all year, we’d win a couple and lose a couple. It’ll be good.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.