By Andrew Hirsh
Around this time last year, Justin Faulk received a demotion to the American Hockey League after struggling in his rookie year with the Hurricanes. Now, with the 2012-13 regular season underway (at least in most leagues around the world), Faulk has returned to Charlotte—this time under very different circumstances.
After a brief stint with the Checkers last fall, the former second round pick earned a quick promotion back to the Canes once the organization suffered a mild case of the injury bug. That proved to be a turning point for the young defenseman, who then finished the year in remarkable fashion.
Faulk, then just 19 years old, posted 22 points in 66 games en route to NHL All-Rookie team honors and considerable Calder Trophy consideration. And while his offensive prowess was what turned heads, it was Faulk’s maturation in the defensive facet of the game that set him apart from other teenagers.
Heading into summer, many fans and fellow media folk I spoke to felt he was ready to take over a top pairing role with Carolina and perhaps fight for a spot on the Eastern Conference’s All-Star roster. With a bright future ahead, Faulk seems destined for greatness.
But, as everyone is well aware at this point, his future in the NHL will have to wait.
With the lockout dragging on into November and perhaps throughout this season, Faulk has returned to the Checkers for no reason other than to stay fresh and play in a relatively competitive atmosphere.
In his first four games with the Charlotte this season, Faulk has racked up five assists—playing a far superior game than he did the last time he skated on Time Warner Cable Arena ice.
“He’s at a different level,” said Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels after the first two games of the season. “He was very good in both games, both offensively and defensively.”
“Obviously it’s not the ideal situation but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt and I’ve been having some fun down here and enjoying being around the guys,” Faulk told Chip Alexander of the News & Observer. “I’m taking it day by day, have a lot to work on and improve on, and I’m expecting to become a better player, obviously.
“It’s a better league with the guys who have been sent down (by NHL teams). I don’t think anyone is complaining about the competition.”
Soon after Faulk rejoined the Canes last fall, I had the pleasure to speak with Rick Dudley, the former GM of the Atlanta Thrashers, during a Carolina vs. New York Rangers contest. With both of us having ties to the Thrashers organization, defenseman Zach Bogosian—a former fourth overall pick—came up in conversation.
Prior to the start to his professional career, Bogosian was considered a can’t-miss prospect and a future blue chip defenseman. Things haven’t exactly panned out for him, however, as several flaws in his game have led to an underwhelming start to his career.
“You know who’s a lot better than Bogosian? That kid Faulk,” Dudley said pointing to the ice. “Both have the size and the grit, but Faulk has the smarts and instincts that Zach (Bogosian) doesn’t. I bet you right now he turns into a real star.”
Now, looking at Faulk at this point, it doesn’t take an expert to see why he’s likely to turn into a great hockey player. However, this conversation with the former GM took place before Faulk had the opportunity to blossom into a legitimate NHL player. I guess that’s why Mr. Dudley makes the big bucks.
Throughout the season, the evolution of the former University of Minnesota-Duluth standout was a treat to watch, as he quickly ascended into one of the premier young blueliners in the world today.
With the ability to earn top pairing minutes with the Hurricanes, watching Faulk skate in the AHL this year will definitely be fun to see. In addition to fellow NHL-calibre players like Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe and several others, Faulk’s presence in Charlotte figures to lead to quite a successful year for the Checkers.
Andrew Hirsh is a graduate of Elon University and is entering his fourth year as a credentialed NHL writer. He founded SunbeltHockey.com in 2012 and serves as the site’s managing editor. Andrew can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.