Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford knows when something good is about to happen.
At the time Rutherford opted not to release young defenseman Justin Faulk to the U.S. National Junior Team for inclusion in the 2012 World Junior Championship last December, he suggested that Faulk was already playing too integral a role for the Hurricanes despite his age.
As it turned out, Faulk would lead all Carolina skaters in average ice time per game (22:50), finishing first among NHL rookie defensemen in that category. He also topped all rookie defenders with five power-play goals, and was second with 22 points. He'd finish with eight goals and 14 assists in 66 games during his first NHL season.
Defense - CAR
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 22
SOG: 101 | +/-: -16
Playing alongside Jay Harrison or Tim Gleason much of the season, Faulk became the eighth player in franchise history to be honored on the NHL All-Rookie Team and was one of 12 rookies selected to participate in the 2012 NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Ottawa.
Was Rutherford surprised by the play of his first-year defenseman, a 2010 second-round draft pick?
"Yes," he said during his annual "State of the Canes" address to fans last month. "Playing defense in the NHL is very difficult and playing at 19 years old is even more difficult. But as long as I've been around the game, even as far back as when I played, I've never seen anyone handle the position like Justin Faulk has as a teenager."
The organization is certainly holding out hope that Faulk is able to duplicate that effort in 2012-13 in order to create some measure of continuity along the back end.
30 in 30: Carolina Hurricanes
Preview: Optimism abounds in Carolina
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
The Canes ended last season on an up note, then went out and added Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin over the summer, creating an air of excitement for the 2012-13 campaign. READ MORE ›
"We've had defensemen come into the League like [Bobby] Orr, [Denis] Potvin and [Phil] Housley, who were great offensive players, but I've never seen a player play so well defensively and offensively at his age," Rutherford said. "I can't describe it well enough to tell [fans] what they're in store for having this great young player."
With a year of experience now under his belt, Faulk is looking forward to 2012-13.
"When you don't make the playoffs, it's not a good feeling, it doesn't sit too well especially when you start seeing all the playoff stuff on TV and the Internet," Faulk said. "You're not too happy about it and I think we're hoping to be in a different position."
How high was Carolina's managerial team on Faulk when they drafted him in the second round (No. 37) in 2010?
Consider that less than a week after celebrating a national championship as a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth in 2011, Faulk was already signing an entry-level deal with the team in April. He led Bulldogs defensemen in goals (eight), assists (25) and points (33) in 39 games in helping UMD to its first NCAA championship.
"In training camp, it looked like he was ahead of schedule, and that proved to be the case," Carolina's director of amateur scouting, Tony MacDonald, told NHL.com. "I guess you could say he made the transition a little earlier than we thought he would. Not many 19-year-olds can do that, especially on defense, but it looks like he'll be one of our go-to guys for a long time, and that's tremendous."
In Carolina, Faulk was arguably the team's best puck-mover in the absence of injured Joni Pitkanen last season. That work ethic and consistency will need to continue this campaign in order for Carolina to remain steady in front of All-Star goalie Cam Ward.
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