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It was only one hockey game, but Noah Juulsen hopes that his appearance in what would be the Laval Rocket’s final game of the season is the first step on the road back to the NHL.
“Even if it was only one game, there was a long stretch when I didn’t play,” Juulsen said Friday during a conference call from his off-season home in British Columbia. “Just getting that one game was a great feeling. The coaching staff in Laval put me in that game and they played me quite a bit. I think I played more than 18 minutes and it was great getting that opportunity.
“I was skating by myself for three weeks and then I had a few practices, which was good,” said Juulsen, a 6-foot-2, 198-pounder. “When you’re skating by yourself, you don’t have a partner to talk to and it’s different. When I started practising with the team, I was talking to guys and the coaches came up with drills to help me.”
Juulsen, who was the Canadiens’ first-round draft choice (26th overall) in 2015, started the March 11 home game against the arch-rival Belleville Senators as part of the No. 1 defence pairing wth Otto Leskinen and helped the Rocket to a 3-0 victory.
The game marked Juulsen’s first appearance since November. His career was put on hold after he experienced a recurrence of headaches, which could be traced back to Nov. 19, 2018, when he was playing for the Canadiens. Taking advantage of Shea Weber’s absence, he moved into a top-four role, but he was struck in the face by a puck twice in the game against the Washington Capitals and spent most of the next month on the injured-reserve list. He returned to play four games before Christmas, but was sent down to Laval.
Juulsen played only three games for the Rocket before he was shut down because of headaches and a vision problem which, at one point, was considered career-threatening.
He reported to the Canadiens’ training camp last September, but was unable to practise because he was still experiencing headaches. He played 12 games for Laval in October and November before he was shut down.
Juulsen, who said battling back from his injuries has made him tougher, noted he’s “feeling better than I ever have” and he’s looking forward to challenging for a spot with the Canadiens next season.
“I’ve got a Peloton bike in my basement and ice is starting to open up here, and I hope to be skating next week,” said Juulsen. “I have to get my confidence back up where it should be and I want to be ready for the start of the season.”
Juulsen, who is a restricted free agent, should be in the mix on the right side of the blue line. Weber and Jeff Petry have the top two spots sewn up, but there will be a battle for the third spot. Christian Folin finished the season on the third pairing and the 23-year-old Juulsen will be battling Folin and two other youngsters, 21-year-old Cale Fleury and 20-year-old Josh Brook.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020