It is rare for the Carolina Hurricanes to draft and develop defenseman. Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford has always held the position that, by the time a defenseman develops and reaches his full potential, he will be on his second or third contract and could be looking for a change in location. So in the past, Rutherford has always attempted to trade or turn to free agency for pieces of the Carolina defense, with various levels of success. But given the right player, that philosophy can change in a hurry. Defenseman Justin Faulk has exceeded all expectations since the Carolina Hurricanes drafted him and today, they extended his contract for six more years, earning 29 million over the length of the contract.
Faulk was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Hurricanes, but they did not enter the day eyeing the young defenseman. According to Rutherford, they had Faulk going in the first round, not believing that so many teams would pass on the U.S National Team Development Program stand-out. And even when he fell to the second round, the management did not get their hopes up.
“As it got closer and closer, it was like, ah, he’s probably going to go to this team or the next,” Rutherford said. “But he fell to us.”
The Hurricanes made no hesitation when their time to draft began. Faulk was one of the players in contention for Carolina’s first round draft choice, and there was worry that if they did not draft him then, they would not get another chance. The Hurricanes eventually decided on dynamic winger Jeff Skinner in the first round and gave up hope of getting the young defenseman. So when his name was still on the board when their second round choice came around, it was a no-brainer.
Both Hurricanes early round draft picks that year would prove to be steals. Jeff Skinner would produce a 30-goal season his rookie year, earning the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s best rookie. Faulk would make the NHL’s All-Rookie Team during his first year, one of the first of many honors given to the young defenseman. He was already cementing a spot in Carolina’s Top 4, though his season did not start as planned.
Faulk made the team after showing potential during the preseason, but his first few regular season games ended in disaster. Paired with veteran Tomas Kaberle, Faulk was unprepared for the roaming style of play of Kaberle, often leaving him out of position and unable to prevent many goals against. Deciding to ease the young defenseman into the league, Rutherford him down to Carolina’s minor league affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, for a few weeks to help him find his game. When Faulk returned, he ensured that would be the last time he was sent down that year. His play was raw, but the potential shown was well beyond anything Canes fans had seen for years. Rutherford said it was his play for the Carolina Hurricanes that year that made the contract extension Justin Faulk signed today all the more important.
“That was an important signing because he showed very early in his career how good a defenseman he was.” said Rutherford.
Faulk would continue to develop and continue to impress, especially internationally. He has represented the United States internationally five times in his young career, putting up 14 points in 20 national games. He has been named to the United States World Championship team twice and was one of the select few defenseman used to represent his country for the recent Sochi Olympic games. And though the US did not medal, the experience Faulk gained during those games was invaluable, especially since it is unlikely that will be the last time he finds himself on an Olympic roster.
This season, Faulk and defensive partner Andrea Sekera have been Carolina’s top pairing, both averaging over 23 minutes per game. Both Faulk and Sekera spend time on the powerplay and on the penalty kill, making their versatility invaluable to the team. And while the Hurricanes are unlikely to make the playoffs this year, Faulk will be given plenty of more opportunities to help the team earn that chance. With the extension of Justin Faulk, Rutherford stated that the young player “has been and will continue to be” the anchor of the Carolina Hurricanes defense for years to come.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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