Justin Faulk, Some jerky Sabres fan

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.

Devils send ’15 first-rounder Zacha back to junior

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.

Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.

The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.

“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.

The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.

Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.