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Appreciating Justin Faulk, one of the NHL's premier young defensemen

Though he may not receive the attention of other top blue liners, Faulk has emerged as one of the league's best players at his position.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Faulk lit the lamp on Sunday with a powerful slap shot in the second period that tied the game at one. It was his 14th goal of the year and 45th point, placing him ninth among NHL defensemen in scoring. In his last 17 games -- nine of which have been played since his former partner Andrej Sekera was traded -- he has 16 points.

In addition to his offensive prowess, Faulk is handling more than 24 minutes of ice time a night, lifting up a shaky supporting cast, thriving in all situations and isn't riding unsustainable high percentages. (In fact, his PDO is only 96.5, and his five-on-five S% is 4.2, so he's due for some nice regression).

Faulk's success with the Carolina Hurricanes hasn't resonated with the masses, likely because of the market he plays in and the Hurricanes' recent struggles. Nonetheless, his abilities haven't been lost on the sport's higher-ups, as evidenced by his participation in the 2014 Olympics and 2015 All-Star Game.

Oh, and he's only 22.

Faulk is not in the same class as P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty and other Norris Trophy hopefuls, but he appears to be on track to join their elite group sooner than later.

According to Dominic Galami's HERO charts, the University of Minnesota-Duluth alumnus belongs in the "top pairing" category in time on ice per game, shot attempts per 60 minutes, unblocked shot attempts per 60 and points per 60 since the start of 2012-13.

Where he falls short is in shot suppression, but he's improved in that regard in each of the last two seasons. At even strength, Faulk's shot attempts against per 60 is roughly four fewer this year than it was in 2012-13; additionally, his relative shot attempt differential has jumped from -2.3 in 2012-13 to 4.0 in 2014-15.

Faulk's WOWY (with or without you) numbers are especially telling. Almost all of Carolina's skaters are better possession-wise when he's on the ice, even though he tends to be matched up against the opponent's best line.

faulkwowy

In terms of special teams, Faulk has been a huge part of the Hurricanes' fourth-ranked penalty kill with a little more than two minutes of short-handed ice time per night. He currently sports the best relative shot differential at four-on-five among defensemen on the Hurricanes' roster (Sekera had him beat there).

What's more, he's getting 2:46 of TOI/G on the power play, and only seven blue liners have more points on the man-advantage than his 18.

With the Hurricanes' rebuild underway, and with Ron Francis' general manager skills being tested for the first time, having a bona fide No. 1 D-man in tow is going to be crucial moving forward. Not only is Faulk locked up through 2019-20, he's slated to make just $4.83 million per year for the length of that agreement.

Compare those figures with, say, Johnny Boychuk's new contract, and it becomes evident how great Faulk's deal is for Carolina. Faulk has 13 more points than the New York Islanders rearguard in 2014-15 (Boychuk has made seven fewer appearances), takes on tougher deployment and has far less talent around him.

And yet, Boychuk's AAV will be $5.5 million through 2021-22.

Also worth noting: Boychuk signed his seven-year, $42 million pact at 31 years old. He has some good seasons left in him, sure, but he's bound to deteriorate long before New York stops cutting him expensive paychecks.

Faulk, meanwhile, should only get better.