With nine defensemen still in training camp, Canes coach Paul Maurice wanted to be careful how he phrased his answers.
Asked today about Justin Faulk, Maurice said, "I like his game."
Before camp began, it was believed Faulk might emerge as one of the biggest surprises and make a strong bid for a roster spot. His sound play, strong frame and poise on the ice has convinced Maurice that at 19, Faulk can handle whatever he's asked to do.
Maurice today gave Faulk perhaps the biggest compliment, comparing him to Jeff Skinner in training camp last year.
"I haven't seen any reason to think of him differently than a good NHL defenseman," Maurice said. "There's just hasn't been a hole (in his game). So 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. Based on how he plays, that's the number of minutes he plays. You're seeing that in the games -- power play, penalty kill, regular shift. We'll just keep playing him."
Maurice was asked if he already had Faulk penciled into his top six on D.
"I've really like this guy's game," Maurice said again. "Some players I know what they can do in the regular season and the playoffs. ... But I've been very impressed with his play."
Maurice did concede Faulk was in the conversation for top six consideration.
"He's right in the middle of it," Maurice said with a smile. "You can take that any way you slice it."
Faulk was a second-round draft pick in 2010 who helped Minnesota-Duluth win an NCAA title last year as a freshman and led all NCAA rookie defensemen in scoring. After the season, he reported to the Charlotte Checkers and was in for 13 Calder Cup playoff games.
Of training camp, Faulk said, "I'm just going out every day, every game and giving it my all and see what happens."
At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Faulk had a low center of gravity and good core strength. While initially tagged an offensive defenseman coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, he has impressed the Canes' coaches and management with a solid 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.
"And when he gets it on his stick, it's flat and on somebody's tape nine times out of 10. That's a very high percentage for anybody, especially at 19."
Maurice noted that the coaching staff goes over the video of the young players, then has someone individually go over mistakes with a player.
"Except he's just not on any of the video," Maurice said of Faulk.