As training camp progresses, NHL teams have begun trimming their rosters and moving closer to finalizing their opening night lineups. Often times there will be several dark horse candidates that comes out of nowhere to contend for roster spots throughout the league. This year, one such kid is Carolina Hurricanes prospect Justin Faulk.
A defenseman from St. Paul, Minnesota, Faulk was selected by the ‘Canes in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and is progressing through Carolina’s system faster than anyone anticipated. Known as an intelligent and coachable player, the 6-foot-tall blueliner possesses a rare combination of discipline and physicality that has scouts and fans alike taking notice. Not often does a prospect come around that is known for his mean streak and ability to stay out of the penalty box, but that’s exactly what the Hurricanes have found in Faulk.
After several years in the U.S. Developmental Program, Faulk spent one year in college, enrolling at University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2010. As a freshman, he led all UMD defensemen in assists (8), goals (25), and points (33) en route to an NCAA National Championship. After his impressive stint in college, Faulk joined the Charlotte Checkers–the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate–for their playoff run last season.
While he has above-average scoring ability, Faulk focuses on the defensive aspect of the game, a breath of fresh air for an organization that hasn’t exactly done a great job producing stay-at-home defensemen. While he failed to register a single point this year in Traverse City, NHL.com listed Faulk as one of the top nine performers of the tournament. For a team that finished dead-last in the NHL in shots allowed, having a prospect with such a strong defensive upside waiting in the wings is quite encouraging.
The former U-18 World Junior Championship gold medalist may only have one season of college hockey and 13 AHL games under his belt, but don’t be surprised if he makes it to the big club this season. He followed up his Traverse City performance with a strong start to training camp and has continued to display characteristics of an NHL-ready player. While Faulk has garnered quite a bit of attention from the media and the fans, his biggest supporter might be general manager Jim Rutherford.
“I would say he has an outside chance of making the Hurricanes this year,” Rutherford said to NHL.com last week. “He sees the ice and moves the puck and can skate and is really built. He’s in good shape. Ideally, we’ll give him more development time in Charlotte, but we’re keeping an open mind in camp with this guy.”
Glen Wesley–a former Hurricane and current director of development for defensemen in Carolina–shares Rutherford’s sentiments on Faulk.
“When we got him out of Minnesota-Duluth after they won the national championship, he came into Charlotte and played really well,” he told NHL.com. “I feel right now he can be a guy to come into camp and surprise a lot of people. He’s so far ahead of where we thought he’d be at this point and, let’s face it, we’ve seen younger guys come into this organization and surprise too.”
While Carolina has a bit of a log jam at defense, they will find a way to work Faulk into the lineup if he earns it. The Hurricanes had one of the worst defenses in the league last year, and they would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t try to shake things up a bit. Like Wesley said, younger kids have made big contributions to the ‘Canes in the past (see: Skinner, Jeff). Faulk has made the most of his opportunity thus far, so don’t be shocked if he works his way up to the NHL in the next few weeks.
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