The Checkers will have top defensive prospect Justin Faulk in their lineup this weekend, but just as it was during last season’s playoff run, it may not be for long.
Following Thursday’s practice, the 19-year-old blueliner said that, during the conversation about his assignment to Charlotte, Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice told him that he could be back up as early as next week. Maurice said the same thing to the Raleigh News and Observer
and NHL Home Ice
on Wednesday, further suggesting that this stay could be over once the Checkers conclude their upcoming three-games-in-three-days set.
Aware of that possibility, Faulk, a second-round pick of the Hurricanes in 2010, said it wouldn’t affect his play this weekend.
“I can’t be thinking about it that way,” he said. “I’m part of this team now, and I’m going to do whatever I can to help them win.”
According to Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, Faulk will get every opportunity to do just that.
“He’s here to play a lot of minutes, which is what he’ll do,” said Daniels. “He’ll play on the power play, on the penalty kill and against the other team’s top players.”
During Thursday’s practice, Faulk was playing the point on the first power play unit alongside Chris Terry, with Bobby Sanguinetti moving to the other with Mathieu Roy. At even strength, Faulk was paired with Sanguinetti, with Ryan Donald and Justin Krueger forming a fourth pairing that will likely be scratched on Friday.
Daniels, who worked with Faulk during last season’s playoffs and at the Traverse City rookie tournament this fall, has been impressed with the young defender’s poise.
“He stepped right in to our lineup in the playoffs and was a top-four defenseman for us right off the bat,” he said. “You really forget how young he is when he‘s out there.
“It’s the hardest position to play when you’re coming up the ladder, but he’s shown he can handle it in the way he’s very calm and his mentality doesn’t seem to change whether he’s coming off a good shift or a bad shift.”
Maurice said that Faulk, during his NHL stint, had played better than his minus-6 rating, including a minus-2 rating in each game, would suggest, conveying that thought upon his AHL assignment.
“The feedback was more of a positive vibe than anything, so that was good,” said Faulk.
Such universal praise of Faulk begs the question of why he sat out the Hurricanes three most recent games after forcing more experienced blueliners like Jamie McBain to the sidelines in the first three. The obvious answer is that the organization feels Faulk would be better served by playing top minutes with the Checkers rather than sitting in a press box this weekend, but it could also be to help Faulk, who admitted to feeling the jitters in Carolina, restore some confidence before embarking on another extended run of NHL games.
“To be playing at that level was pretty amazing, but the first couple of game I played a little too nervous,” he said.
Daniels said that he had not yet determined how to handle his goaltending situation for this weekend, which will mark the first time that either Mike Murphy or Justin Peters will finish the week having started more games than the other. However, the Checkers coach said that whatever choice he makes would not be an indication of preference.
“This is the first time where somebody’s going to get two games, but they should each end up playing five of our first 10,” he said. “It’s a tough situation where we’ve only had two games a week so far because they both want to play.
“There’s nothing to read into it. They’re both No. 1 goalies to us, and I don’t think of one as being ahead of the other.”