It was announced the other day that Justin Faulk would not be joining Team USA for the World Junior Championship and will be staying on the Hurricanes for the time being. The general consensus seems to be that Faulk is here for the rest of the year, especially with Joni Pitkanen out indefinitely. However, the team still has seven NHL defensemen even with Pitkanen on the IR, which means we have at least one healthy body available every night. Now, it’s always nice to have an extra player available with injuries being abundant in the NHL this year, but keeping a player in the press box for consecutive games isn’t the best for their development which is why many believe it would have been a wise decision to let Faulk play in the WJC. Faulk, obviously, is not the guy sitting in the press box though. That person is either Jay Harrison or Derek Joslin as neither can be sent to the AHL without clearing waivers first.
Are Harrison and Joslin superior to Faulk? No, but one thing Faulk has that they don’t is the ability to be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waviers. Of course, that would imply that Joslin and Harrison are outperforming Faulk, which hasn’t been the case. However, one thing I notice when I do my scoring chance reports is that Faulk has been on the negative side of the spectrum more times than not. With the coaches using him against the likes of Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Cammalleri and Jason Spezza, it is very possible that he might be in over his head. While Faulk’s defensive game is coming along much faster than anyone could have imagine, he’s known to be more of an offense-first blue-liner and the shutdown role might not be right for him at only 19 years of age.
I understand that organizations want to get the maximum value out of a player during the entry-level years of his contract and using Faulk in a sheltered, offensive role with Jaroslav Spacek, Jamie McBain or Jay Harrison in a slightly sheltered role might seem like the team is wasting an entry level year, but putting Faulk into a position where he can excel is what the team should do if he’s going to be staying in the NHL. Faulk’s scoring chance rate is currently at 46.6%, which is roughly the team average. His corsi percentage, however, is well below the team average at 40.6 sort of indicates that Faulk is not ready for the NHL yet, at least not in the role he’s been playing this year.
The problem with sheltering Faulk is that there are other defensemen on the team who would benefit from the same kind of treatment, namely McBain. Also, Faulk has gotten the benefit of easier zone starts compared to the rest of the defensemen as his 50.8 OZone% is third highest behind Spacek and Joslin and he is only ranked fourth among defensemen in quality of competition. Which means that Faulk has been protected in the lineup but is still struggling a bit, which could indicate that he’s not completely ready for the NHL yet.
Faulk’s game looks good by the eyes but he has shown some inconsistencies and I can see why people think that the Canes should have let him play on Team USA in the WJC. He’ll be the team’s best defenseman, play around 25 minutes a night and have a chance to be a huge part of Team USA’s run in the tournament. People will obviously see that as a bigger experience for him than playing sheltered minutes on a bottom-feeding Carolina team. Although, it’s not as if Faulk hasn’t played a big role on the Hurricanes because he’s loggged over 20 minutes a game ever since his recall and is playing a key role on the powerplay. Also, he is a much better option than Joslin who has put up worse possession numbers than Faulk with easier ice time. I think most Canes fans would be more comfortable having Faulk in the lineup over him even if it is only for a few weeks.
With only 17 NHL games under his belt, we may have to wait a little longer to determine whether or not Faulk will stick with this team for the rest of the year. Early on it seemed like he was a keeper but his lapses in the defensive zone have been increasing lately so I think the next month will be key for him. As of now, he is a better option than Joslin so I see him staying in the NHL for the time being (not sure what will happen with Joslin) but how effective he will be and what role he will be used is a great question. It’s great that Faulk is playing big minutes so early in his career but the underlying numbers show that he may not be fully ready for that kind of responsibility so early in his career. Ultimately, I would like him to see him used with Spacek or Harrison in a 2nd/3rd pair role, with some protection because I think that’s where he’ll be the most effective. At least that’s how I would like things to see with the current defense corps. When Pitkanen comes back and when/if there are a few trades involving the Canes blue-liners in the next few months, it’s a whole different story.