Carolina could be really, really young on defense this year

Justin Faulk, the former U.S. Olympian and All-Star, is a cornerstone of the Hurricanes’ blueline.

And at 23 years old, he’s also one of the more experienced defensemen on the team.

Seriously!

On Monday, the ‘Canes made another round of training camp cuts, which left them with Faulk and nine other d-men: John-Michael Liles, Ron Hainsey (both 34), James Wisniewski (31), Michal Jordan (25), Ryan Murphy (22), Jacob Slavin (21), Brett Pesce (20), Haydn Fleury (19) and Noah Hanifin (18).

The big (and exciting) questions for Carolina are Fleury and Hanifin, the club’s most recent first-round picks. Fleury (seventh overall, ’14) has the physical tools to play at the NHL level — he’s 6-foot-3, 200 pounds — and could end up sticking partly because of his predicament; he’s only 19 and therefore AHL ineligible, meaning he’d need to be returned to WHL Red Deer, where he’s already played three full seasons.

Then there’s Hanifin, the fifth overall pick at this year’s draft.

Like Fleury, he’s seen by some as NHL-ready and the ‘Canes have made it clear that, should the former Boston College standout prove he’s ready to play, he’ll play.

“We certainly think with his skating ability and his size, he has the potential to step in and play, but we’re certainly not going to rush him in that regard,” GM Ron Francis told the team’s website this summer. “I think if you look at history, a lot of young defensemen take a little longer to develop.

“There have been more and more (defensemen) recently that have been able to step in and not only contribute, but have tremendous success.”

As for the other youngsters — Slavin and Pesce — their fates could be decided by the health of others, specifically James Wisniewski. The well-traveled journeyman, acquired from Anaheim at the draft, is dealing with a groin injury and has a length history of health concerns.

It’ll also be interesting to see how many d-men Bill Peters keeps to start the year. The ‘Canes head coach could begin with eight, given the Wisniewski situation, which would further pave the way for a potential youth movement on the blueline.

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