Where does Justin Faulk rank among rookie defensemen?

During the Hurricanes-Ducks telecast on FS-Carolina the other night, the announcers mentioned that Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk should be considered in the Calder Trophy race for the NHL’s best rookie. If you watch the Hurricanes every night or follow them at all, you can certainly make a case for Faulk being one of the NHL’s top rookies. He plays 20+ minutes a night, contributes on the powerplay, kills penalties and his game looks very impressive by the eye-test. For a kid that is only 19 years old, that is very impressive and it makes you wonder why he hasn’t gotten much recognition around the league. Is this enough to take home the Calder, though? Unfortunately, probably not.

While I do think that Faulk’s season has been overlooked by the national audience, the fact is that it is tough for defensemen to win the Calder. The only time a defenseman wins the Calder is when there is no real standouts among the forward class. Voters and fans are going to look at points before anything else and with players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Read and Cody Hodgson on pace for at least 40 points a piece, it will be tough for Faulk to stand out. He’s also played fewer games than some of the other rookies so that probably hurts his Calder chances, too.

Rookie of the Year seems like a tough bet for Faulk but a good question is where does he rank among other rookie defensemen? Most coaches give their younger players easier ice-time against relatively weak competition to help them get a jump-start but we know that this hasn’t been the case with Faulk. He and his partner Jay Harrison rank third and fourth respectively among Hurricanes defensemen in quality of competition, so we know that Faulk isn’t getting soft minutes. What other rookie defensemen are doing this, though? We’ll look into it after the jump.

Click to enlarge (trust me, you’ll need it.)

The defensemen shown here are Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella, Roman Josi, Jonathan Blum, Justin Falk, Dimitry Orlov, Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin, TJ Brodie, John Moore, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Adam Larsson, Jared Cowen, Slava Voynov, Jake Gardiner, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Stefan Elliott. In short, it’s every rookie defenseman who has played at least 30 games this year.

The graph shows how each defenseman has been used this year, broken down by their offensive zone start percentage, corsi relative to quality of competition and corsi relative. The x-axis shows their offensive zone start percentage, the further they are to the right means they are starting more of their shifts in the offensive zone and vice versa. The y-axis shows their corsi relative to quality of competition, which shows whether or not they are being used against tough competition. The higher on the y-axis they are means they are being used against tough competition. To show how they are performing in these situations, I used their corsi relative rating which shows how many shots they are surrendering compared to their teammates. A blue bubble means they have a positive corsi relative and the size shows how high their rating is. A red bubble means they have a negative corsi relative, and the size shows how deep into the negatives they are.

Now that I have all the statistical mumbo-jumbo explained, it’s time to interpret the graph and see where Faulk stands.

  • Faulk is playing tough minutes and is being outplayed despite getting slightly more of his draws in the offensive zone. He isn’t getting killed at even strength but the numbers here suggest that he is struggling a bit. However, there aren’t many rookie d-men playing against tough competition right now and Faulk’s -3.4 corsi relative isn’t that bad when you consider the workload he takes on. He also plays more minutes than any other rookie at an average of 22:35 per game. I think it is safe to say that he’s got the biggest workload of any rookie defenseman in the league right now. The negative corsi with 51.6% of his starts coming in the offensive zone is a little concerning, though.
  • The two players who are facing tougher competition than Faulk are Minnesota Wild rookies Marco Scandella and Justin Falk. Before he was sent back to Houston last month, Scandella was given an enormous burden as he ranked second among the Wild in Corsi Rel. QoC and faced the toughest competition among rookies. He was getting outplayed but he has a similar case to Faulk where he was given a huge workload and could only do so much as a rookie. Oddly enough, Scandella has the same corsi relative as Faulk and was playing in tougher situations. He also logged about 20+ minutes a night as a member of the Wild.
  • The only guys who are outplaying their competition are the ones playing softer minutes, especially Marc-Andre Gragnani, Stefan Elliott and TJ Brodie. Gragnani and Elliott are used in strictly offensive situations and that is part of the reason why the latter had 11 points in 30 games. It is also the reason why Jake Gardiner leads rookie defensemen in points as he’s taking on below average competition with a healthy dose of offensive zone starts.
  • The two Preds rookies (Roman Josi & Jonathan Blum) are getting hammered against relatively weak competition. They are starting in their own zone a lot but they are still giving up a lot of shots and chances for two guys that are regularly matched up against opposing teams third and fourth lines.
  • Because of injuries, the Flyers have been using Marc-Andre Bourdon on their second-pairing on some nights and you can see that he’s in a bit over his head.
  • It is a little surprising that Slava Voynov doesn’t have more than 11 points because he’s been getting soft minutes and doing enough to drive possession, so it would make sense for him to be racking up more points than he is right now.
  • Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz are playing roughly the same situations but Diaz appears to be giving up more in his own end than Emelin. Diaz also has 16 points while Emelin has only 4. Go figure.
  • It appears that John Moore isn’t quite ready for the NHL yet as he is getting smashed in his own zone despite playing against weak opponents.
  • Dimitri Orlov is getting used in his own zone a lot but he appears to be doing fine despite that. He’s also facing average competition so keep that in mind. Adam Larsson is also doing fine against average competition only he’s being used in the offensive zone more often. 

We can conclude from this that Justin Faulk has a much bigger workload than just about every other rookie defenseman in the league right now. He is playing more minutes than any of them, has been used against tougher competition than most of them and is performing better than some rookies that are being used in easier situations. I still do not think this is enough for him to win the Calder but I do think that this proves how under-appreciated he is on a national scale. For him to be playing those kind of minutes as a 19 year old is impressive no how you look at it.