Noah Juulsen’s meeting with Montreal will therefore never have taken place.
When the Canadian no longer knew what to do with his money and displayed a cruel lack of depth, the defender was injured or ill, unable to do justice to himself. And now that general manager Marc Bergevin has opened the floodgates to strengthen his club, the budget is so tight that we have had to sacrifice the 23-year-old, finally healthy.
Subject to waivers the day before for a demotion in the American League, Juulsen, ex-first round choice (26e overall in 2015), was claimed by the Florida Panthers on Monday. He will report to his new squad, with whom he is expected to make his debut in the coming days.
“We would have liked to keep it,” Claude Julien conceded on Monday, a few minutes after the news broke.
Juulsen thus becomes the fifth player selected in the first round under Bergevin’s reign to leave the organization, after Alex Galchenyuk (2012), Michael McCarron (2013), Nikita Sherbak (2014) and Mikhail Sergachev (2016). Galchenyuk and Sergachev are the only ones to have garnered interesting returns in Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin.
Had it not been for the Canadian’s payroll, which was almost swollen to the limit of the 81.5 million allowed, Juulsen would undoubtedly have started the season with the big club. However, to comply with the current ceiling, management decided to restrict regular training to 21 players rather than the 23 usually kept in the entourage of the team. This means that a single reservist could be added to the 20 players needed to hold a game – 18 skaters and 2 goalies.
Only two young players had to go through waivers if their services were not retained at the end of training camp: Juulsen and Victor Mete. All the others were handed over to the minors without any problem.
Bergevin bet on Mete. At 22, he entered his fourth season with the Canadiens and already has 171 games on the clock. Despite some shortcomings in his game, there is no doubt that he belongs to the NHL. The risks of losing him for nothing were too great.
We therefore made the bet that Juulsen would not be claimed. Subscribed to bad luck – injuries to one foot and then to an eye, chronic headaches… -, the 6’2 ”, 201-pound fellow has been limited so far to 44 games in the NHL, spread between two seasons during the winter and fall 2018. His migraines have caused him to miss the vast majority of the last two seasons, to the point where he wondered if he should not make a dead end on his career.
Although he has fully recovered, he has not yet, strictly speaking, proven himself among professionals. It still bears, in spite of itself, the label of “project”. “Without guarantee”, insisted Claude Julien, who believed that the other clubs would be “hesitant” towards him. Twenty-nine were. Not the Panthers.
During the off season, there were many changes in the administration of the Felines. Consequently, we are trying to change the face of training on the ice. It also turns out that defense was one of the worst in the league last season. And that Juulsen, moreover, is well known to the Panthers’ management board.
New amateur scouting director Shane Churla was part of the Canadiens scouting squad for 7 years before heading to Florida last November. He knows the potential of Juulsen perfectly well, because he was closely involved in his selection in 2015. Claude Julien has also confirmed that Churla had a “big impact” on this decision at the time.
Rick Dudley, advisor to the general manager with the Panthers, was for his part the senior vice-president of hockey operations for the Canadiens in 2015.
He and Churla therefore repatriated the “promising young defender” of which Jeff Petry spoke on Monday. The one who, according to the CH veteran, “can bring a lot to a team”.
“Giving him the opportunity to regain his pace would have been to our advantage,” said Julien. Unfortunately, that’s part of the job. […] we wish him good luck [et] to find his game. “
This wish is unquestionably legitimate and sincere. But it had to be accompanied, secretly, by the hope that the team had bet on the wrong horse.