Justin Faulk flew back into town Tuesday and was on the ice Wednesday morning for an informal skate with some Carolina Hurricanes teammates.
“It’s nice to get back, get around the guys again, get ready for training camp and the season,” the defenseman said.
Much has changed since Faulk left Raleigh in April, a few days after the Canes’ season ended. Ron Francis was promoted to executive vice president and general manager. Kirk Muller was fired as coach and Bill Peters hired to replace him. Gone are former assistants Dave Lewis and John MacLean.
But most of the faces in the locker room Wednesday at Raleigh Center Ice were familiar to Faulk – goalie Cam Ward, defensemen Jay Harrison, Tim Gleason, Brett Bellemore and Ryan Murphy; and forwards Pat Dwyer, Jiri Tlusty, Zach Boychuk and Elias Lindholm.
“It’s kind of a new look this year, but at the same time it’s pretty much the same team we’ve had,” Faulk said. “We like the guys we have in the room. Everyone says it, but it really is true: if you can string it together and get everybody on the same page – GM, coaches, players, staff, whatever – things click and things work out in your favor, usually.”
At 22, Faulk is about to begin his fourth NHL season. He again should have Andrej Sekera as his partner on the Canes’ top defensive pairing and is well-compensated after signing a six-year, $29 million contract extension in March.
Faulk, a native of South St. Paul, Minn., played for the U.S. in the 2014 Sochi Olympics and has competed for Team USA in World Championships. He won an NCAA championship as a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth. A lot of success and good things, for sure, but there’s still one void to fill in the NHL.
“I haven’t made the playoffs,” he said. “It’s tough to go home knowing you didn’t make it, that you fell short. I mean, there’s only one team that wins each year but you’ve got to make the playoffs.
“It’s been three years for me, and I know it’s been five years for a few guys here. With most of us coming back, we all have that same goal to get there and see what you can do.”
Of the Canes’ last playoff team, one that reached the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals in 2009, just four players remain – captain Eric Staal, Ward, Gleason and Dwyer, who was in the lineup for two playoff games.
Forward Jeff Skinner has had four productive NHL seasons but has not been in a playoff game. Defenseman Ron Hainsey has been in the NHL for 11 seasons and played 673 games but has yet to be in the playoffs.
“You never know what team is going to make a run and do some damage in the playoffs, and just getting there is the main focus,” Faulk said.
Faulk set career highs last season in games played (76), assists (27) and points (32). Although leading the Canes’ defensemen with 152 shots, he scored just five goals – Sekera had 11 goals on 142 shots – and wants to be more of a scoring threat and offensive contributor.
But being physically effective and handling the puck efficiently in the Canes’ defensive zone are more important responsibilities. Faulk said he would like to be more consistent than he was last season, when he finished with a minus-9 plus/minus rating.
“There’s going to be ups and downs,” he said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. There were times I didn’t play my best and that falls completely on my shoulders – to make sure I’m ready to show up every night and put together a 60-minute effort, or 65-minute effort or whatever is needed.
“You have to string it together every game, and it’s on me to show up and be ready to go every game. Get out there and try and be a leader.”
Note: The Canes’ informal skates at RCI are open to the public. The season-opener is Oct. 10 against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena.