No one else on the Hurricanes had an experience like Justin Faulk did in the year 2011. If winning the NCAA Championship with the University of Minnesota-Duluth last April wasn’t enough, Faulk signed his pro contract less than a week later and participated in the AHL playoffs. After impressing many people at training camp and the Traverse City tournament, Faulk made the Hurricanes opening night roster and played top-four minutes right off the bat. He was sent down after three games but was recalled later in November and managed to stay on the team permanently. It’s hard to believe that Faulk turned only 20 years old in late March because he’s gained so much experience already.
When the Hurricanes drafted Faulk in 2010, they knew they were getting a good player and most scouts projected him to be an offensive defenseman who was probably a few years away from being NHL ready. What they probably didn’t see coming was Faulk playing 20+ minutes a night, contributing on both special teams units and being a possible candidate for the Calder Trophy. Oh, and Faulk managed to do all of this despite being a teenager for most of the season.
In a year that was mostly full of downs for the Hurricanes, Faulk was a great story and one of the team’s bright spots. After the jump, we are going to take a closer look at Faulk’s season and examine his strengths as well as his flaws.
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Faulk was a key part of the Hurricanes defense as he played more minutes per game both at even strength and overall than any other blue-liner. He also did not need to be sheltered by the coaching staff as he ranked fourth in corsi relative to quality of competition on the team (technically third since Pitkanen missed over half of the season), showing that he spent most of his time against opposing team’s second lines. Faulk’s ability to play these kinds of minutes as a teenager is a great sign for his development and it should make a lot of fans optimistic about his future. Most players at his age are usually given sheltered minutes since they are just adjusting to the NHL. One could say that Faulk’s entry to the NHL was a bit of "trial by fire" because he was given top-four minutes almost immediately and was soon playing 20-25 minutes a game. Faulk also performed well in these situations as both him and his defense partner Jay Harrison kept their heads above water in scoring chances when they played together.
While Faulk wasn’t Cam Fowler, he did have an impact offensively on the Hurricanes and he did most of his damage on the powerplay. His eight goals and five powerplay tallies tied him for second on the defense corps and his 22 points were the third most among the team’s defense. Faulk was also one of the Hurricanes best defensemen in terms of producing scoring chances and his play on the penalty kill was phenomenal. Faulk allowed the fewest amount of scoring chances per 2 minutes on the PK, which shows that Faulk’s defensive game is showing plenty of progress even if the numbers at even strength don’t completely show it. For a rookie, Faulk showed a lot of poise and played a very sound game which was probably the most impressive part of his rookie campaign.
Faulk’s biggest drawback is easily his defensive play at even strength as that part of his game hasn’t yet to completely develop. While Faulk was able to give the Hurricanes a lot of offense, he gave up just as much in his own end as he gave up the most scoring chances per 60 minutes among Carolina defensemen. He was also on ice for 2.44 goals against at even strength compared to being on ice for only 1.90 Carolina goals per 60 minutes. That is reflected by his -16 rating, which was the second lowest on the team. Faulk also didn’t score much at even strength as most of his goals came on the powerplay and his points per 60 rate was the second lowest on the defense corps.
When it came to pushing the play forward, I think it’s fair to say that Faulk was able to do that effectively. He was easily one of the better puck-moving defensemen on the team but despite that, Faulk was still below 50% in even strength in most possession metrics (corsi, scoring chances, etc.) and it’s mostly because the team gave up a lot of shots and scoring chances when he was on the ice. This shows that while Faulk has been nothing but impressive by the eyeball test, he does have some work to do defensively. Just like any young defenseman in the league and especially one who was playing the minutes that he was. Faulk’s ability to prevent shots and chances against on the PK should make fans a little optimistic about his defensive issues at even strength, though. Faulk does well when given a defined role but his overall two-way game does need some work.
Faulk is in the first year of his entry level contract which pays him $900,000. You always want to make sure that you are getting the most value out of a player with an ELC and seeing how Faulk played over 20 minutes a night in key situations, I think the Hurricanes received great value for Faulk.
The Final Word:
The future is bright for Faulk and the Hurricanes blue-line. This season was a huge step forward for Faulk as most people thought that he wasn’t even going to be in the NHL this year and he ended up playing in 66 games while logging big minutes. Faulk exceeded in many areas but the underlying numbers show that Faulk’s defensive game is still a work in progress, but he is still only 20 years old and has plenty of time to improve there. He is going to be a key piece of the Hurricanes rebuild and it was good to see him such an early start going forward. It’s tough to say what Faulk’s ceiling will be as an NHL-er but after his impressive rookie season, I am sure that it is higher than what most people had previously thought.
What grade would you give Faulk’s rookie season with the Hurricanes? If he exceeded your expectations beyond your wildest dreams, give him an A. If he met your expectations, give him a C. If he completely let you down, give him an F. Explain your vote and give us your thoughts on Faulk’s performance this year.