RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have set their 23-man NHL roster for the start of the regular season.
Justin Faulk's on it. So is another rookie defenseman, Ryan Murphy. In fact, it's overloaded with nine defensemen.
Center Riley Nash was assigned Wednesday to the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes' American Hockey League affiliate. Nash was the final roster cut after veteran forward Chad LaRose, who had been out with a lower-body injury, returned to practice Wednesday and was cleared to play.
Canes coach Paul Maurice did not disclose who will be on the blue line Friday in the season-opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, saying he would be comfortable with any of the nine defensemen. But Faulk, 19, has earned a spot in the lineup.
General manager Jim Rutherford was asked Wednesday if Faulk was in his top six defensemen.
"No," Rutherford said, "in the top four."
A year ago, Faulk was beginning his freshman year at Minnesota-Duluth. A second-round draft pick by the Canes in 2010, the South St. Paul, Minn., native would play a major role in the Bulldogs winning their first NCAA championship.
Faulk then joined the Checkers, playing 13 games in the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs. Checkers coach Jeff Daniels liked Faulk's consistent, poised play.
Rutherford said he has been impressed by "pretty much everything" Faulk has done in training camp and exhibition games.
"To think that he's 19 years old, and to have the composure he has, and the way he handles different situations, how he moves the puck, how he skates. He knows the game," Rutherford said. "I haven't seen many flaws in his game to this point.
"This is great for us. We knew we had a good player in Justin, but as a defenseman we always say it's going to take longer. But for him to do what he did in the preseason as a 19-year-old is pretty impressive."
Faulk said he appreciates the praise and confidence but that it would not change his approach.
"I'm happy right now and it's just a start," he said. "I'll just keep playing my game and do my best to stay up here. I am starting to feel more comfortable with the guys and getting to know them better."
Faulk laughed, noting Minnesota-Duluth's hockey season also starts Friday. "This is quite a step up from that," he said.
"He's had a great camp and we have a lot of faith in him," Maurice said of Faulk. "He's got a lot of instincts to play defense and a nice little upside offensively. We know he's got a big shot. So we are comfortable putting him in the lineup."
Murphy, 18, was the team's first-round draft pick this year. Rutherford said Wednesday no decision had been made on Murphy, who has quickness and offensive flair. Murphy could stay with the Canes this season or be sent back to the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League for another year of junior hockey.
Forward Jeff Skinner made it an easy decision for the Canes last year - Skinner was staying as an 18-year-old rookie. But deciding on Murphy will take a little longer and Rutherford said the Canes might keep the full 23-man roster early in the season.
"Jeff came in as a forward - not that it's easy to come in as an 18-year-old and play in this league and play that position - but it is easier to adjust as a forward than a defenseman," Rutherford said. "Ryan has done a really good job and has had a really good camp and we're excited about him and excited about his future.
"As long as he's here he has a chance to play in games and be a member of this team this year. And as every day goes by he's learning something new, which is the important thing."