RALEIGH — In his more than 500 games in the NHL, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen has had many defensive partners.
But, perhaps, never two quite like Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy.
Faulk is 19 but plays more like he's 29, to hear Allen tell it.
"He's a young kid but he's not playing like a young kid," Allen said. "He's got poise and he's got patience out there."
And Murphy? He's just 18 but also has Allen shaking his head.
"He's got more skill than I could have ever thought about," Allen said, smiling.
Allen, 31, has played with each of the two defensemen during the Canes' preseason exhibition games. Faulk was a second-round draft pick by the Canes in 2010, and Murphy was the team's first-round draft choice - and the 12th overall pick - this year.
Each is making a strong case for appearing on the Canes' roster when the regular season begins Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Carolina coach Paul Maurice has said performance, not age, will dictate the makeup of the team he puts on the ice for the season opener.
Allen was paired with Faulk on Friday in the Canes' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"I think the biggest thing I've been impressed with is his positional play," Allen said. "He knows where he is when he's on the ice, and is aware of the situation and where other players are, too."
On Saturday, Allen played with Murphy as the Canes lost their final preseason game to the Nashville Predators, 2-1 in overtime. Once again, there was quite a disparity in size on the back end - Allen is 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds, Murphy 5-foot-11 and 174.
"He's a very creative player with speed and skill," Allen said. "And also for his size, I've been impressed with how he utilizes it. Sometimes in your defensive zone you don't have to be the biggest guy. Use your stick properly and have your body positioned properly and it can make up for a lot."
The Hurricanes, 1-4-1 in the preseason, still have nine defensemen in camp and Maurice indicated Saturday that Faulk may have worked his way into the top six. The coach even compared him to forward Jeff Skinner, who made the team at 18 last season and was the NHL's rookie of the year.
"I haven't seen any reason to think of him differently than a good NHL defenseman," Maurice said. "I'm almost moving to the point that you start thinking of this guy in the same way you did about Jeff Skinner last year. Just play him. Don't worry about his age, just play him."
Maurice noted the younger players in camp have individual video sessions with coaches to go over their mistakes. Except Faulk.
"He's not on any of the video," Maurice said.
Faulk, at 6 feet and 205 pounds, was considered an offensive defenseman coming out of Minnesota-Duluth, where he helped the Bulldogs win an NCAA title as a freshman. He does have a big shot but has impressed with his overall game.
"There are guys who are effective in certain kinds of games, especially offensive guys," Maurice said. "But maybe you're playing a very tough defensive team (and) it's very difficult for you to show that. His game is played every night. What he is very good at presents itself regardless of whether you're playing a skilled team or a hard, grinding team - his ability to separate guys from the puck, his positioning on the ice."
The Hurricanes may face a stickier decision with Murphy, who starred for the Kitchener Rangers last year in the Ontario Hockey League.
They either need to keep him on the NHL roster all season, or return him to Kitchener for another year of junior hockey. While Faulk could be assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League and be recalled by the Canes during the season, if Murphy plays more than nine games for Carolina his first-year NHL salary must be paid.
Odds are, Murphy could be going back to Kitchener, and he said he could accept that decision.
"I'd be disappointed, but then again I'm an 18-year-old kid coming in here and I still have a few more years to crack the lineup," Murphy said.
"It's not the end of the world."