In three short seasons, Justin Faulk has proven himself to be a key member of the Carolina Hurricanes defensive corps and one of the preeminent young defensemen in the National Hockey League.
On Monday morning, the Canes put that notion in writing, signing Faulk to a six-year, $29 million contract extension.
“That was an important signing because he showed very early in his career how good a defenseman he was. That was confirmed by his selection to the U.S. Olympic team at a very young age,” Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford said. “He’s really been a consistent performer on defense over the last three years and will continue to be for several years.”
“It’s pretty exciting,” Faulk said. “I’m happy to be here for another six years. I think we have a pretty good group of guys here, a good core of guys to build off of. If you look at our team, it’s a good team to be a part of and good guys to have around. I think it’s just going to keep getting better from here on out.”
The deal inks Faulk, who celebrated his 22nd birthday just last week, through the 2019-20 season with an average salary cap figure of $4.833 million.
“Certainly with what Justin has done, there was some concern with the way our system works now that there could be an offer sheet, so it was important to get him done prior to getting to that stage,” Rutherford said.
“I think Jim [Rutherford] said it pretty good. He said, ‘You won’t have to worry about this one for a long time now,’” Faulk said. “It’s nice and relaxing that you don’t have to worry about it for six more years.”
In 169 career NHL games, Faulk has posted 61 points (16g, 45a), including 24 points (3g, 21a) in 65 games this season. Faulk ranks second on the Canes in average ice time per game with 23:21, only behind defensive partner Andrej Sekera. He regularly matches up against opponents’ top lines and skates in all situations.
“He’s young, but he’s gaining experience quickly in the amount of games he’s getting and the minutes he’s playing. His maturity level has given him an opportunity to grown in those roles,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He’s out there killing penalties, playing against the best players, key roles for a young defenseman like that. The experience he’s gaining, he’s learning from it and improving on all those areas.”
Even as a young defenseman, the Canes have eyed the South St. Paul, Minn., native as someone around which to build the team defense.
“Yes. He’s one of them,” Rutherford said. “Certainly Sekera is another, but we’ll get to his future at a time that we can as far as his contract is concerned.”
At just 21 years of age, Faulk was one of the youngest U.S. Olympians to play on the men’s hockey team since the NHL began sending its players to the tournament in 1998. Faulk skated in just under 10 minutes in two games with the U.S. national team, as they earned a fourth-place finish in the tournament.
“Being a part of the Olympics was a great experience for him, I’m sure,” Muller said. “He’s just getting better and better and more confident as a young defenseman.”
Now Faulk has his sights set on the playoffs, something that eluded him in his first two NHL seasons and is a fading hope in the third.
“It’s something you want to be a part of. It’s not fun going home at the end of the season and watching on TV,” Faulk said. “I’ll be at home with my buddies watching the Stanley Cup playoff games, and they’ll be like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I’m sitting there just checking things on my phone, playing a game or something. It’s definitely something you want to be a part of more so than watching, so it’s something I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to play in.”
And he sees that opportunity within the Canes locker room – a place he will call home for the next six years.
“I think that’s our main goal. You look around, there’s quite a few guys who are pretty darn good players, I think. It’s definitely a good group to start with. I think we are pretty close. We do have the right group of guys in here, I think,” Faulk said. “To be able to try to build off that and be a part of that for six more years and see where we can get this team to be, where we all think we can be and try to get to that point, is something I think that’s going to be pretty fun and enjoyable.”
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