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Hurricanes defenseman Faulk aims to become elite

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- Defenseman Justin Faulk emerged as an offensive force with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.

The Hurricanes were 26th in the NHL standings in 2014-15 with 71 points and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth straight season. But Faulk's 49 points (15 goals) were 12th among NHL defensemen.

He believes he's capable of even more this season.

"I hope I didn't hit my ceiling at 23 years old," Faulk said with a smile while at the NHL's Player Media Tour earlier this month. "I think the biggest thing for me is to be consistent; work hard in practices and games. The best team's best players are the guys who do it every day. That is what I am working toward."

Carolina's second-round pick (No. 37) at 2010 NHL Draft, Faulk (6-foot, 215 pounds) left the University of Minnesota-Duluth after one season to turn pro. He spent the majority of the 2011-12 season with Carolina, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 66 games, but also spent a part of that season and the following one with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.

Faulk is now established as a full-time NHL player, and Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis believes the formative years will play a huge role in Faulk's development as a leader in Carolina's rebuild.

"Justin is very critical to our group," Francis said. "He's a guy who came in at an early age and has gone through some ups and downs to get where he is. Some of the younger guys we drafted who we are projecting will get into our lineup in the next couple of years will be able to use him as a sounding board and someone to guide them through their transition stage."

Bill Peters is entering his second season as Hurricanes coach, and Faulk believes familiarity will be helpful.

"I think the biggest thing is we know what to expect of our head coach," Faulk said. "It took us a little bit of time to get used to his way of doing things, although I don't view that as an excuse for our performance. We know what he expects from us and what he wants from us on a daily basis."

Faulk believes Francis has been selective in making moves that carefully fit the Hurricanes' goal of becoming a playoff contender. Francis wants players who will not only help in the near future, but more importantly down the road. It helps, Faulk said, when your team is being built by a Hockey Hall of Fame member.

"If you walk into the room and see Ron Francis, it perks you up a little bit," Faulk said. "Everyone knows who he is and what he has done in this league. It's not just that; it's how he treats the guys the right way. He takes care of his players."

Even though Carolina ended last season losing six of its last eight, Faulk likes its chances of finding success as a hard-working team. He pointed to a stretch between Jan. 2 and Feb. 28 when the Hurricanes went 14-7-3 as proof they can be competitive.

If they are to find consistency, Francis believes Faulk will be an important cog in the wheel.

"We think he's a heck of a defenseman and a good player, but he is really coming into his own as a leader for our young guys," Francis said. "That has been great to see as well. He wants to be a great player and he is really focused on doing that."

Faulk got off to a slow start last season, with one assist in Carolina's first eight games. He didn't score his first goal until the Hurricanes' 11th game.

"I remember having a conversation with him at the end of the season and he told me he woke up one day and asked himself if he just wanted to be an average player in the NHL or did he want to be a really good player," Francis said. "He went about changing his habits and how he went about things on and off the ice. From there, he took off. His confidence was better. Not only was he on our top pair in terms of defending, he was able to chip in with 15 goals. That was pretty impressive. He played with a ton of confidence in all situations."

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