Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk is in a hurry.
Faulk, drafted 37th overall in 2010, played just one season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (33 points in 39 games) after developing his talent with the U.S. National U-18 team. He played just 35 games at the intermediate AHL level, 13 in the playoffs, 12 in the regular season.
Last season he scored eight goals and added 14 assists with a minus-16 rating in 66 games for Carolina. He finished well, scoring 20 points in his last 56 games. Then he scored eight points in eight games for Team USA at the 2012 World Championship.
“Playing defense in the NHL is very difficult and playing at 19 years old is even more difficult,” Carolina GM Jim Rutherford told NHL.com. “But as long as I've been around the game, even as far back as when I played, I've never seen anyone handle the position like Justin Faulk has as a teenager.”
Carolina bolstered its offense by adding forward Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. Power-play specialist Joe Corvo also returned to bolster the blue line.
Faulk is positioned to post big numbers in his second NHL season and become one of the league’s better young offensive defensemen.
Here are some other emerging D-men to watch:
Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs: He got better as his rookie season progressed. He scored 14 points (two on the power play) in 42 games before the All-Star break and 16 points (five on the PP) in 33 games after it. He averaged 1:58 per game with the man advantage and should see that role grow this season. He scored 41 points in 41 games during his third season at the University of Wisconsin, so he is accustomed to assuming a primary offensive role.
Justin Schultz, Oilers: He opted not to sign with the Ducks and put himself in the free agent market after starring at the University of Wisconsin. In his last two seasons there, he scored 91 points in 78 games. Edmonton won the bidding for him, beating out 25 other teams. At 22 years old he has the physical maturity to play a major NHL role right away. One this potential explosive team, Schultz could post huge numbers and win Calder honors.
Ryan Ellis, Predators: He scored 101 points in 58 Ontario Hockey League games during his final season of junior hockey. In his first pro season, he scored 18 points in 29 games for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League and 11 points in 32 games for Nashville. In limited duty, Ellis delivered highest even-strength scoring rate among Predators defensemen. Now he will get his shot a filling the power play void left by the departing Ryan Suter, who played in 75 percent of Nashville’s power play time.
Roman Josi, Predators: He must improve his defensive game to earn an even-strength opportunity with Weber, but has the skill to compete with Ellis for power play time. He scored 45 points in 68 games during his last two seasons with Bern in the Swiss elite league. He followed that with 40 points in 69 games for Milwaukee in his first North American season and 16 points in his first 52 games last season.
Ryan Murray, Columbus: The second overall pick of the 2012 draft is expected to play right away. He scored 104 points in 168 games in the Western Hockey League and starred in international competition. The Islanders wanted him so badly that goofy owner Charles Wang reportedly offered his whole draft for him. But the Blue Jackets opted to use this pick to gain a defensive cornerstone to build upon. Murray is mature beyond his years and steady with the puck in both ends. The Blue Jackets can take their time developing his offensive game with Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski and Nikita Nikitin running the power play points.
Slava Voynov, Kings: Jack Johnson’s departure in the Jeff Carter trade gave him an opportunity to claim a bigger offensive role. He scored eight points with a plus-5 rating in last 18 games. Overall, he produced eight goals and 12 assists with a plus-12 rating in 54 games as a rookie. He added just three points during the playoff run, however. He should improve on the six power-play points he scored last season.
Adam Larsson, Devils: His rookie season took a turn for worst when Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban plowed him during a Feb. 2 game. A bruised lower back shelved him for 10 games and he earned just two assists with a minus-1 rating in 16 games after coming back. Overall he posted 2/16/18 line with a minus-7 rating and 18 PIMs in 65 games. The fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft had just four power-play points last season but could earn a bigger role this season.
Stefan Elliott, Avalanche: He scores like a forward, penetrating the offensive zone and picking spots with his wrist shot. The 49th overall pick of the 2009 draft piled up ridiculous WHL numbers, including 31 goals and 50 assists in 71 games during his final season at Saskatoon. Elliott broke into the NHL last season with 13 points in his first 39 games last season. He also had 14 points in his first 30 regular season games at the AHL level. Once he earns regular time in the NHL, look out. He has just scratched the surface of his offensive potential as a pro.
Brendan Smith, Red Wings: Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement and Brad Stuart’s free agency exit gives him a clear shot at earning a primary role this season. He scored 52 points in 42 games during his last season at the University of Wisconsin. He scored 66 points in 120 games in two seasons with Grand Rapids of the AHL. He scored seven points in 14 games with the Red Wings, assuming an offensive role with Lidstrom shelved by injury in February.