At the very least, Justin Faulk has been here before.
Having spent small parts of the last two seasons with the Checkers, the defenseman said he didn’t have to think too hard about his decision to join them once again. Though he’s now as well established as any 20-year-old can be in the NHL thanks to his All-Rookie campaign last season, one key factor led him to choose Charlotte when it came to finding a home during the NHL’s labor stoppage.
“It beats sitting at home and waiting,” he said. “It helps that I’ve been around and I know a lot of the guys and the area. (The Hurricanes) said that wanted me to come down and play, and I’m happy to play.”
Much as they were during the 2011 playoffs and the start of the subsequent season when he was still getting his feet wet at the highest level, the Checkers are happy to have him.
“Just watching him out there, you forget how young he is,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “From having him here and watching him on TV with Carolina, he’s a guy that looks like he’s been out there a for a long time.”
In the second group to skate on the first day of training camp Saturday, Faulk drew the largest reaction from the watching crowd of fans and players alike with a turn-around wrist shot from the slot that hit the cross bar and nestled firmly behind the goal line during one particular drill. He’s done that a few times in game action with the Checkers, including his first professional goal with the team nearly one year earlier, which helped set up the rest of his successful first year.
“Getting sent down (last season) is never what you want to happen, but I took it as an opportunity to learn and get better,” he said. “I think that’s what I did, because once I got up there everything went well.”
As long as the NHL lockout continues, Faulk will be a key part of a supercharged Checkers defense than includes Bobby Sanguinetti, who averaged a point per game in the second half of last season, and Marc-Andre Gragnani, who won the AHL’s best defenseman award two years ago prior to spending all of last season in the NHL with Buffalo and Vancouver.
On Saturday, Faulk and Gragnani were paired together, which would be a partnership few other AHL teams, if any, could match.
“We’re fortunate,” admitted Daniels. “Add in Sanguinetti, who I think was one of the best defensemen in the league in the second half, and we’ve got three guys who can really move the puck and run the power play.”