Is Justin Faulk the secret to Carolina’s success this season?

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The Carolina Hurricanes came awfully close to making the playoffs last season. While they had great seasons out of Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, one area they had struggles with was on defense. Cam Ward had a busy and great season in goal, but the Carolina blue line left a bit to be desired.

This offseason Carolina signed Tomas Kaberle away from Boston as a free agent but he may not end up being the most impactful season this time around. With training camp over with, rookie Justin Faulk is leaving a huge impression on everyone in Carolina. Coach Paul Maurice is loving the youngster’s play and GM Jim Rutherford is heaping the praise upon the former Minnesota-Duluth standout in a big way.

Chip Alexander of The Raleigh News & Observer gets the big compliments out of Rutherford about their national championship blue liner even saying that he feels Faulk is a top-four defenseman for them.

What has impressed Rutherford the most about Faulk, who’s 19 and was enrolled at Minnesota-Duluth this time last year and set to play college hockey?

“Pretty much everything,” Rutherford said. “To think that he’s 19 years old, and to have the composure he has, and the way he handles the puck and the way he handles different situations, how he moves the puck, how he skates. He knows the game.

“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.”

After seeing Faulk up close and personal in Lake Placid at the Team USA World Junior Development Camp, he’s a guy well ahead of the curve age-wise. Offensively he’s highly gifted. He’s a slick puckhandler with a great shot from the point. Offensively and on the power play, Faulk should help Carolina improve there immensely. With Faulk and Kaberle teaming up with Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason, it gives them a healthy balance between offensive and defensive play.

One thing they’ll have to watch with Faulk is his actual defense. He’s such a potentially dynamic player offensively that sometimes he does so at the risk of getting back to protect his own end. Paul Maurice and the Hurricanes veteran defenders will help him work those things out.

At 19 years-old Faulk is going to make a few mistakes, but his upside is tremendous and for Carolina, after seeing Jeff Skinner thrive as an 18 year-old last year they don’t have any fears about having a young guy seize the chance to make a positive addition to the squad. It makes for a heck of a year for Faulk as he was a key member of the Minnesota-Duluth national championship team back in April and now he’ll be starting in the NHL. They sure do grow up fast these days.

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.

3 KHL players suspended after testing positive for banned substances

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The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced that three KHL players have been suspended after testing positive for banned substances.

Here’s an excerpt from the KHL’s website:

The IIHF has informed the KHL that three players – forward Danis Zaripov (then with Metallurg Magnitogorsk), defenseman Andrei Konev (Admiral Vladivostok) and defenseman Derek Smith (Medvescak Zagreb) – have tested positive for banned substances.

Derek Smith tested positive for a category S6.а stimulant.

Andrei Konev tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant.

Danis Zaripov tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant plus category S5 diuretics and masking agents.

Zapirov, who was part of Team Russia at the 2010 Olympic Games, has been banned from suiting up in “competitive hockey” until May 22, 2019. Konev will be unable to play until Nov. 19, 2017, while Smith, who is Canadian, will be suspended until Sep. 2, 2018.

Smith, 32, played in 94 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

Report: John MacLean could join Tocchet’s coaching staff in Arizona

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The Arizona Coyotes have a new head coach, but Rick Tocchet still has to fill out the rest of his staff.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the ‘Yotes might be looking to add John MacLean to their coaching staff.

MacLean, 52, spent six years as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils (2002-2009) before becoming the head coach of their AHL affiliate. After one year of coaching in the minors, MacLean was promoted to head coach of the Devils. His tenure didn’t last very long, as he was fired after just 33 games (they were 9-22-2 under his watch).

He spent the following three seasons as an assistant in Carolina, but he was let go after the 2014 season.

MacLean hasn’t been back behind an NHL bench since being let go by the ‘Canes. Instead, he’s served as a hockey analyst on various television networks.

Related:

Tocchet wants Coyotes’ young players to be ‘creative’ and ‘calculated’

Tocchet brings lessons from past mistakes (and successes) to Coyotes

Sabres re-sign Robin Lehner to one-year, $4 million deal

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The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with goalie Robin Lehner, as they inked him to a one-year, $4 million contract on Tuesday morning.

Lehner and the Sabres were scheduled to have their hearing on July 27, but that obviously won’t be necessary anymore.

The 26-year-old played a career-high 59 games in 2016-17. He finished the year with a 23-26-8 record, a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.

There’s no doubt that he’s a talented netminder, but he’s had his share of struggles when it comes to staying healthy and being consistent. Of course, the team in front of him hasn’t been very good either.

Both of Buffalo’s goalies (Lehner and Chad Johnson) will have something to prove this season because they’re both on one-year contracts. When their deals expire next summer, Lehner will be a restricted free agent again, while Johnson will be free to test the market on July 1st.

The Sabres now have just over $10.9 million in cap space with RFAs Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu and Evan Rodrigues still needing new contracts.

A huge extension for Jack Eichel is also on the horizon, but his new salary won’t count on the cap until 2018-19.