Ryan Szporer The Hockey Writers
Canadiens Owe Juulsen a Shot on Defense
It’s been over a year and a half since defenseman Noah Juulsen last played for the Montreal Canadiens. It’s about time he got in another game, arguably as soon as against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the two teams’ upcoming play-in series.
Juulsen Recovers from Eye Injury
Admittedly, there’s probably a degree of rust that’s set in for Juulsen. The 23-year-old defenseman last played for the Canadiens in December 2018, after suffering what was reported to be a career-threatening eye injury. Ultimately complications limited him to just 13 American Hockey League games this past season.
However, rink rust is a widespread issue, as every single Hab has suffered a four-plus-month layoff at least. In effect, Juulsen was healthy enough to play the Laval Rocket’s final game of the season on March 11. Officially speaking, he actually played more recently than the Canadiens, whose last game was on March 10.
So, the only reason to keep Juulsen out of action would be unjustified trepidation on the part of the Canadiens. Unjustified yes, but understandable all the same.
After all, Juulsen was the Canadiens’ first-round pick just five years ago. It would make sense for the Canadiens to want to protect their investment as much as possible considering his injury history. However, injuries are always a risk and not just for Juulsen.
Juulsen vs. Fleury
The point is this: If you can’t trust in the process that got him healthy to the point that he played that one final AHL game, he shouldn’t have been allowed to play. He may not have been in so-called NHL shape at that point, but, as part of the Canadiens’ 33-man training camp roster, he’ll be getting as much of an opportunity to get there as anybody else.
In fact, during a season in which Cale Fleury helped form the most common third-pairing on the team (Brett Kulak), Juulsen should jump to the front of the line. It isn’t because Juulsen is two draft years older and has priority. Instead, Juulsen is just arguably further along his developmental track.
To be fair, Fleury isn’t exactly chopped liver. He still has upside. However, he clearly has a long way to go considering how he’s projected to be an offensive-minded defenseman, but earned a single goal in 41 games with the Canadiens this past season.
It’s admittedly due in large part to Fleury’s deployment. Still, it just goes shows he’s not being afforded the opportunities best in line with his skills, whereas Juulsen fits in more as a third-pairing defenseman at this stage of his career, as someone who’s defensively reliable.
Of course, it remains to be seen if that’s still the case. It’s been a while since Juulsen was in an NHL-game situation, but the Habs won’t know what they’ve got until they let him loose. If he’s ready, and logically he should be, he deserves to show the organization what he’s got against the Penguins, in that same projected third-pairing role.
True, shots are more earned than handed out and, in that sense, the Canadiens don’t owe Juulsen a thing. However, if all Juulsen needs is a chance to prove himself during camp to play his way back into the lineup, the least the Canadiens can do is oblige their former first-rounder. From their perspective, the chance to play Juulsen in big-game situations is why they drafted him in the first place.
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