Montreal Canadiens: Is There Still Room For Noah Juulsen on Habs Roster?

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 15: Noah Juulsen #58 of the Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 15: Noah Juulsen #58 of the Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens defence is getting deeper. Is there any room for Noah Juulsen?

The Montreal Canadiens were a little thin on defence in the postseason. Xavier Ouellet only played a handful of games in the regular season, but he was a regular in the lineup when the Habs faced the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers this summer.

Reinforcements are on their way to help out in that area. The Habs signed Alexander Romanov to an entry-level contract and he will be in North America after two years in the KHL. He was the best defenceman in the World Junior tournament two years ago, and the organization hasn’t hidden their enthusiasm for the player, so it appears likely he will be in Montreal.

The team also sent a fifth round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes so they could try and negotiate a contract with Joel Edmundson before he became a free agent on October 9th.

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They were successful in that endeavour when they inked Edmundson to a four-year contract with a $3.5 million cap hit. That gives them two more options to use on the blue line. Though both are left shot defenders, their addition has a trickle down effect on some defenceman who shoot right as well.

One player I am starting to wonder about is Noah Juulsen. Where exactly is he going to fit in to this lineup now?

The addition of Edmundson likely gives the Habs a new partner for Jeff Petry. With Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber on the top pairing, there are no openings in the top four. Even the third pairing is going to be crowded next season.

The hype around Romanov, which mostly comes from general manager Marc Bergevin who once said drafting the Russian is the move he is most proud of since taking the reigns in Montreal, suggests he will be on the third pairing.

That would leave Brett Kulak and Victor Mete battling for the final regular spot after playing on a regular basis for the past two seasons.

Also in the mix for ice time is 21 year old Cale Fleury who suited up for 41 games last season and played a physical style on the third defence pairing. Fleury is the only right shot outside the top four, but he is going to feel some pressure from Juulsen for a higher spot on the organizational depth chart.

That gives the Habs nine defencemen who could legitimately play at the NHL level right now. The top four of Chiarot, Weber, Edmundson and Petry is pretty safe. They won’t be listed as healthy scratches next season. But Mete, Romanov, Kulak, Fleury and Juulsen? There is only room for two of the five on a given night.

How will the Canadiens sort this out? The easiest solution, and best “asset management” decision would be to send down Romanov and Fleury, because they do not need to pass through waivers before being assigned to the Laval Rocket.

That would force Mete, Kulak and Juulsen to battle it out to get into the lineup. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition. But what if Fleury forces his way into the lineup like he did last year? Or what if Romanov is as good as Bergevin believes and he needs to play every night?

That would force the team to make a difficult decision on Kulak, Mete or Juulsen. If it comes down to needing to move one of these three, Juulsen is the last player I would trade or try to send down.

The 23 year old has been limited to just 13 games this past season and 24 the year previous, but he still has the potential to be a two-way defender on the second pairing in the near future. He suffered concussions and vision issues after being hit in the face with two pucks in a game against the Washington Capitals in November of 2018.

He finally was fully healthy and came back to play for the Rocket in March. However, his return to action was just one game before the league paused and eventually cancelled its season. The Surrey, British Columbia native looked solid and poised in his 44 career NHL games and the team can’t afford to lose him for nothing.

Due to his age, Juulsen would need to pass through waivers before he could play in the AHL again. There is no question that someone would pick him up on waivers if he were available. The same could be said for Mete and Kulak.

So, what should the Habs do with their nine defenders? They can afford to be patient, and send Romanov and Fleury down since they are eligible to travel between Laval and Montreal without waivers.

But, I would be dangling Kulak and Mete’s names out there in trade discussion leading up to the draft. They are decent contributors at the NHL level, but the additions of Edmundson and Romanov have pushed them down the depth chart.

Trading Mete or Kulak at the draft would ease that logjam on the blue line. It would also be a huge vote of confidence in Noah Juulsen who has battled through a lot to get back healthy. He is still just 23, and has the size, smarts, speed and two-way ability to be a key part of the blue line in the future.

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This break may have been a blessing in disguise for Juulsen. It will put even more time between his injuries and his return to action, without actually missing any games. He looked solid and steady in his return to the Rocket in March and should be even better when the puck drops on the 2020-21 season.