He slammed 25 hours away. He waited in his quarantined Sunrise hotel room. And now he arrives in a team in forced arrest for a week.
Noah Juulsen will have fully deserved the next game he plays in the NHL. But when we know that he has been waiting for more than two years, is he really a few days away?
“They told me I have an opportunity here so I have to demonstrate what I can do in training. Then I hope to have matches to prove myself. I’m just happy to change the scenery, it can sometimes help, ”said Juulsen, the Canadiens’ former first-round pick, in a telephone interview with The Press.
Juulsen got a fresh start two weeks ago when the Florida Panthers claimed him on waivers. They kind of took a bet on this defender, drafted at 26e rank by the Habs in 2015.
A bet, because Juulsen has not played in the NHL since December 17, 2018. Migraine headaches, linked to two pucks that hit him in one eye in the same game, derailed his career. He attempted a first comeback in the fall of 2019 with the Laval Rocket, and the experience lasted 12 games. New return to Laval on March 11, 2020, with success, but this time, it was rather the pandemic that cut his project short.
His journey has not been easy, and in an interview with RDS two weeks ago, the general manager of the Canadiens, Marc Bergevin, dropped that Juulsen had even considered retirement.
The scenario may have been discussed with the agent – the venerable Ron Fournier had also said that Juulsen’s career was possibly compromised. But the main interested party assures us that retirement has never been an option.
“No, I didn’t think about it, and I never mentioned that possibility,” says the great British Columbian. I just wanted to sort out my problems. I wanted to talk to the doctors, understand what was going on. The staff at Laval have been amazing to me, I cannot thank them enough.
“But in my head, I always knew I was going to start playing again. ”
Stuck in the hierarchy
It is of course because of this long period of inactivity that he is no longer a member of the Canadiens. The message to him was the same, regardless of the speaker: “He has to play”.
In an improved squad, there was simply no room for him on the right, behind Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Alexander Romanov.
“When I arrived at the camp, I suspected that I would not be really lucky,” he admits. Camp was very short and I knew I would be in Group B. I haven’t played in the NHL for two years, I suspected I was going to be waived, especially with the players we added. . I was hoping to have the chance to play in Laval. ”
Bergevin was hoping none of the other 30 teams would try their luck with a player in need of mileage, mileage he would ideally get in the American League. Recall that a team that claims a player on waivers must keep him for at least 30 days in his formation before being able in turn to cede him in the American League (by going through the waiver again).
On the morning of January 11, Juulsen thought he had been ignored, by the way. The teams had until noon to claim it. “I didn’t really know what was going on. I arrived at the arena at 12:05 p.m., took my COVID-19 test, and thought I was still with the Canadiens. Then Marc was there, and it was he who told me that the Panthers had called for me.
I was drafted by the Canadian. It was hard to say goodbye to people, but I needed this fresh start. It’s good to get another chance. It was a relief to know that someone still believed in me.
So that’s where he jumped into his car, covering the 2,600 km that separate Montreal from Sunrise. A technical detail that allowed him to quarantine shorter than the mandatory seven days if he had arrived by plane.
“I stopped in Philadelphia to sleep, and rode for 15 hours the next day. It was a lot of driving, and I have even more respect for the truckers who spend entire days doing that! ”
“I can’t wait to play! “
As luck would have it, he landed on a team on a forced stoppage, because Thursday’s and Saturday’s games were called off due to COVID-19 cases among the Carolina Hurricanes. Juulsen is therefore entitled to a full week of training to get back in shape. On Friday, he was skating in the fourth duo, to the right of veteran Keith Yandle.
The potential is definitely there. When he suffered his eye injury, he was averaging 18 minutes per game, had five points in 16 games, was showing a +3 rating and seemed on his way to establishing himself as a full-time defender in the NHL.
Juulsen is hopeful that he will be in top form to play a game and try to pick up where he left off in November 2018. “The canceled games allowed me to have a few more practices after quarantine. I feel great and can’t wait to play! ”