Justin Faulk vs. Team USA’s Other Defensemen

Those eager to see Justin Faulk play in this year's Olympics are pretty disappointed right now, as the Hurricanes young defenseman has yet to see the ice. He was scratched in all three games in the preliminary round and is currently listed as the team's 8th defenseman, which means he probably won't get into the lineup unless another blue-liner has a noticeably bad performance. Most thought that Faulk would have a spot on a team but not many knew where he would rank on the depth chart. 

At 21 years old, he is the youngest defenseman on Team USA's roster and he has less NHL experience than any other blue-liner, as well. It's possible that he was brought on board to gain some experience and wasn't going to play a big role. However, Faulk isn't the only young defenseman on this club, as Cam Fowler and John Carlson are both around the same age and have been regulars in Team USA's lineup. He has also played a similar role on the Hurricanes as these two have on their respective teams, so age and experience should not be preventing Faulk from getting playing time, especially with his performance at the World Championships in previous years.

Faulk would be, at worst, a #3/4 defenseman on most clubs but that can be said about almost every defenseman on Team USA's roster, so it'll be interesting to see how Faulk compared to the rest. Personally, I think he is about on the same level as Fowler & Carlson and should be seeing minutes over Brooks Orpik, who has struggled the last couple of years. However, I'm biased from having watched Faulk a lot more than anyone else. After the jump, we'll look at how the Hurricanes young defenseman compares to the rest of Team USA's blue-line. 

Before looking at the performance of each of these players, we're going to get some insight on how their coaches have been using them over the last couple of years. We usually do this by looking at a "Usage Chart," which shows a player's offensive zone start percentage and his quality of competition. With each of these players having a top four role on their respective clubs, a graph showing that would end up being cluttered. Instead, I'm going to borrow an idea from Canucks Army's Rhys J and show their true offensive & defensive zone start percentage. 

The "Offensive Zone Start Percentage" we're familiar with only looks at how many 5v5 faceoffs a player started in the offensive zone compared to how many he started in the defensive zone, neutral zone faceoffs are excluded. For this study, we're going to add in neutral zone faceoffs to see how big of a defensive workload each player has had to deal with over the last three seasons. We know Faulk has generally had to take most of the tough draws for the last two years, but how big is his workload compared to other Olympians?


If you need some guidance on how interpret this chart, it's actually pretty simple. The players on the lower right side of the graph are the more sheltered players and the ones on the top left are the ones seeing the most difficult minutes. Faulk lies somewhere in the middle. Earlier I said that he's on the same level as Fowler and Carlson and his assignments have been about the same as them, too. Ryan Suter is also getting similar territorial assignments, albeit with a lot more minutes. So Faulk isn't getting sheltered, but his minutes aren't nearly as heavy as the likes of Ryan McDonagh. How has Faulk performed with these assignments? 

We can look at this a few ways. Some say that it's all about plus/minus with defensemen, but skaters only have so much control over which shots go in and which ones don't, which is why we're going to look at their Unblocked Shot Differential (Fenwick) instead. Shot suppression is something that a defenseman can have more control over, so this is a better way to evaluate them rather than plus/minus. 

So, maybe Bylsma is onto something by not playing Faulk. The only defenseman who was on the ice for more unblocked shots against was McDonagh, who is playing tougher minutes and is on the ice for more of his own team's shots than his opponent's. The rate that Faulk is getting outshot by isn't that bad compared to some of his counterparts, though. 

Carlson and Suter are getting a higher rate than Faulk, but it's hard to imagine either of them coming of them coming out of the lineup for him. Same can be said for the rest of the defense. Paul Martin & Ryan McDonagh are both very good and should be playing, Suter's skating and strong all-around play make him an easy choice to play despite his negative shot differential, Shattenkirk is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league and the tradeoff between Fowler, Carlson & Faulk probably isn't large. Fowler & Carlson probably bring more of an offensive upside to the table, but Faulk is also no slouch in this area and is pretty comparable in terms of shot differential. That leaves us with Brooks Orpik, who doesn't appear nearly as bad as his numbers in recent seasons suggests. He also has experience playing with Paul Martin in Pittsburgh, so Dan Bylsma might be opting to stick with them for chemistry reasons.

If I were running things, I would have at least given Faulk a game at this point because he isn't that far off from Carlson or Fowler and I'd like to get everyone in the lineup to see what they can do. Being an Olympian in general is nothing to sneeze at and I'm sure Faulk is happy just to be in Sochi. It just would be nice to see him action because he definitely earned his place and can play a contributing role, even if he's just a 3rd pair defenseman. 

Stats courtesy of Extra Skater