Fresh off of his fourth appearance at the NHL’s All-Star weekend, Justin Faulk wasted very little time to make an impact on the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
An influx of young defensemen over the past year and a half has taken the spotlight off of Faulk on the local stage, but on the national stage, the 24-year-old blueliner remains a prominent face of the Hurricanes, and for good reason.
Despite the presence of successful and still very promising defensemen in Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk remains the crown jewel on Carolina’s young blueline.
Excluding a rough first week in the NHL back in 2011 that resulted in a short stint with the Checkers, Justin Faulk has been a consistent source of offense on Carolina’s blue line.
A 22-point rookie season featured an appearance in the 2012 NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Ottawa as one of the first-year players invited to the event.
From there on, Faulk’s offensive output went on a steady increase, with his biggest numbers coming in the 2014-15 campaign, where he set career highs in all major scoring categories and made his first appearance as the Hurricanes’ All-Star game representative, an honor that he has received every year since.
Coming off of his big breakout season, the local fanbase had high expectations of Faulk in the 2015-16 campaign, and he delivered.
The Hurricanes got off to their patented slow start in October and November, but Faulk’s game elevated despite that.
From November 7 through December 27 of last season, Justin Faulk tallied 23 points in 23 games and netted eight power play goals in that span. He led the league in power play goals at the time and the team’s resurgence coupled with a dominant stretch from number 27 provided optimism after a very pessimistic outlook over the first seven weeks of the season.
Following a shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens in early February, Faulk suffered a lower-body injury in a collision with former Hurricane Brad Malone during practice. The ailment kept him out of the lineup for all but one game over the better part of two months. Despite playing in 18 games fewer than the year before, Faulk set a career high with 16 goals, 12 of which came on the man advantage.
The 2016-17 season has been lackluster for the Hurricanes, and that includes Justin Faulk.
After posting five points in the first five games of the season, Faulk’s offensive production hit near all-time lows. Over the following 19 games, he had just a goal and an assist and was a minus-nine player.
His offensive woes finally came to an end during the club’s Western road trip in early December, and he started to really take off upon Carolina’s return home.
In eight games from December 7 to December 23, Faulk put up nine points, including three points in Carolina’s comeback victory over the Vancouver Canucks on home ice on December 13.
Justin Faulk had been playing his best hockey of the year, but that came to a halt after suffering a lower-body injury in overtime of a win over the Bruins on December 23.
He returned to the lineup on January 5 in St. Louis and very quickly returned to form, playing well in his own end and returning to his hot offensive ways that he left off on in December and, excluding Carolina’s five-game skid entering the break, he played some of his best hockey of the season and continued to make meaningful contributions offensively.
After a slow start to the season, Justin Faulk has come on strong and has started to play up to his standards since the beginning of December, but coming off of another All-Star appearance, the hope is that he will kick his game into another gear.
The All-Star game should serve as a confidence boost for Faulk, and if Tuesday’s win is any indication of what’s to come, there’s reason to be excited.
On top of netting a third-period power play goal, Faulk was a +17 in corsi differential. He was dominant against the Flyers in a very important game in terms of Carolina’s playoff hopes in the current state of the Eastern Conference standings.
Faulk’s play will play a huge role in this team’s playoff odds going down the stretch. If he can play like a true number one defenseman and continue to help turn around an underperforming power play like he did on Tuesday, that gives the Hurricanes an incredibly valuable piece in terms of generating offense and controlling possession.
Beyond this season, there’s little reason to think that he won’t continue to be the face of this defense. Perhaps the biggest part of the equation for him is staying healthy. He’s had great stretches of hockey broken up due to injuries in consecutive seasons. We’ve seen how good he can be in an 82-game sample size. Carolina’s offensive cohesiveness has taken a hit every time Faulk has missed time.
Another important component to this is his sporadic struggles in the defensive end. That’s been an issue at varying degrees throughout his career and that hasn’t changed all that much this season. Granted, he is still a very strong corsi driver, but he has been prone to mistakes in his own end, whether it be turning the puck over or losing his man in coverage.
With all that said, I am a firm believer that Justin Faulk is still the star on Carolina’s blue line. He has represented the team incredibly well both on and off the ice since he turned pro and his play has, for the most part, backed that up.
The future of the blue line is incredibly bright. Expect Faulk to lead the charge both now and for many years to come.