Weight: 205 lbs.
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2010 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: 3
USNTDP Under-18 Team
U.S. National Under-18 Team
U.S. National Under-18 Team
U. of Minnesota-Duluth
Most teams are patient when it comers to developing their defensemen, which means they usually let them play an extra year in juniors or keep them in the AHL until they feel that they are ready. There are a good chunk of players who don't play in the NHL until their mid-20's and some of them take even longer to reach their full potential. Even those who appear "ready" for the pros are waited on a couple of years before they break into a full-time NHL role so that they can adjust to their role more easily. However, no such "development period" was needed for the Carolina Hurricanes young blue-liner Justin Faulk, who is already a top-four defenseman at the ripe age of 21.
Whenever a defenseman of Faulk's age plays 24 minutes a night, most of which coming against the opposition's best players, it's usually due to there being a lot of injuries or the team in question having poor defensive depth. Both of these issues have plagued the Hurricanes during Faulk's time here, but anyone who watched Faulk play can tell you that he earned those minutes. He plays such a solid positional & defensive game for a player his age. That combined with his ability to make good passes & reads out of his own zone made Faulk a great option for tough-minutes and why he is becoming one of the best young shutdown defensemen in the league.
Seeing Faulk referred to as a "shutdown defenseman" might be kind of weird because he doesn't play a mean game and isn't physically intimidating at all. He is also very useful as a puck-mover and was an excellent offensive defenseman in college. However, when you look at Faulk's performance in the NHL, it's hard to call him anything but a shutdown defenseman and this was especially true last season. Faulk has a good shot & can play one of the points on the power play, but he was also used on the Hurricanes first penalty kill unit and was Kirk Muller's go-to option for playing against other team's scoring lines. The fact that he was matched up against the opposing team's first line in all but six of his games shows how much trust the coaching staff has in him and how his defensive game has evolved.
There are a few cogs in Faulk's game, though. The biggest of which being that he was a negative possession player in his first two NHL seasons. He did have some growing pains during his rookie season and struggled to stay afloat at even strength because of that, but he responded with a strong sophomore campaign where his defensive game looked miles better than it ever had before. He was one of the Hurricanes best defensemen at preventing chances, which is no easy feat when taking his workload into consideration. The only problem is that he spent more time trying to keep play out of his own end rather than driving the play north. As a result, he posted some weak offensive numbers and only seemed to create chances when the Canes were on the power play. That comes with the territory with a 45.5 Offensive Zone Start percentage, but this is one part of Faulk's game I would like to see improve. That being said, he still posted respectable underlying numbers while playing the role of Atlas on the Hurricanes blue-line.
Other than that, I don't think anyone can complain about the track Faulk is on right now. He hit a wall around March and got hurt shortly after, but his performance during the first two months of the season was at another level. Expecting him to play at that caliber for 82 games is probably unreasonable, but it did provide a glimpse at how good he can be and what the future could hold for him. Faulk is developing into the kind of player the Hurricanes can build their defense corps around and is only going to get better as his career progresses. Most defensemen who are able to break into the NHL at his age usually go onto bright futures, so there is a lot to be excited about with Justin Faulk.