Saturday, June 4, 2022

Blues defenseman Justin Faulk

ST. LOUIS -- Remember when the Blues acquired Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, months after winning the Stanley Cup?

Nobody knew what to think of it at the time, because they already had, then, a No. 1-type of defenseman in Alex Pietrangelo.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Defenseman Justin Faulk had arguably his best season in the NHL with the
Blues this past season with 16 goals, 31 assists and a plus-41 rating.

What ensued following that Sept, 24, 2019 trade was Faulk signing a new six-year, $45.5 million extension. It would signify that perhaps the Blues would allow their captain in Pietrangelo to leave following that season to unrestricted free agency, which he did, and Faulk was always -- from a fan's perspective -- being labeled as the guy to replace Pietrangelo and play like he did.

By his own admission, it wasn't the start to his Blues career that he wanted, but things have changed so much for the better since then.

Faulk completed his third season in a Blues jersey and had not only his best season in St. Louis but arguably his best in the NHL.

His 47 points in 76 games were two off a career-high (49 in 82 games with Carolina in 2014-15), his 16 goals were one off tying his career-best with the Hurricanes in 2016-17, but Faulk would shatter his career record plus-minus rating at plus-41, which was tied for sixth in the NHL. His points came in mostly 5-on-5 situations, including a career-high six game-winning goals playing in a role whether it be with Torey Krug or Nick Leddy, or whomever, Faulk thrived as a shutdown defenseman the Blues needed him to be. And his 16 goals this past season eclipsed Faulk's total the first two seasons (12) in 125 regular-season games in St. Louis; he also has a goal and seven assists in 12 playoff games this season.

The 30-year-old answered questions this past week regarding the season for the Blues, which ended in the second round after falling to the Colorado Avalanche, Jordan Binnington's injury, the defense as a whole, among other topics:

Reflecting on the season:
I think we built towards something, with where we were after last season, and how we felt and how we thought we performed and that kind of moving towards the start of the season, halfway through, whatever, and into playoffs. I think the group has grown quite a bit. Young guys have stepped up, matured a little bit, found their footing. I think some of the old guys keep fine-tuning on and off the ice to help the team grow and then obviously help young guys and what not. So I think with where we're at as a whole as a group within this year, it's a pretty, pretty big jump and we know what we have in that room and we know what likely is coming back in a sense, we can see it. We’re ready to keep building on that and hopefully find that next step and keep going and fight our way through the playoffs a little farther.

On if the Colorado series in past and could the outcome been different if Binnington wasn't hurt:
I don't really love to play hypotheticals, to be honest with you. And injuries happen, stuff happens. He's not the only one that was banged up in our group. Obviously we know exactly what he was doing and how well he was playing and it hurts for sure. But no one, quite frankly, outside this team cares.

On where do you see the defense as a whole:
I think guys did a good job at times when guys were out with COVID injuries, whatever, put in different roles. Like you said it was kind of a lot of flip-flopping there at times with guys coming up from the minors and playing. Just trying to find their roles and who's going to play well together, what not. It's not easy, that's for sure and guys handled it pretty well. I think as a group we still have room to go for sure. I think if I look at the 'D' and I think we got pretty good 'D', forwards might want more pucks on the tape and we're deep at 'D' I think. I don't think every team can have what we have throughout the top six. They might have a higher end guy. Obviously we don't have a superstar defenseman, but we have a lot of good, quality defenseman that are comfortable, that have kind of played in all different situations. Down in the lineup, up in the lineup and they can handle it, so I think just continuing to fine-tune. We've got some guys that are younger, that are still learning their way in this league and keep growing and getting better as players and as that happens, it just continually will help our 'D' corps.

On having David Perron stay around despite free agency looming:
Just to echo 'Schenner' there, he's a competitor. I think you want guys on your team that are willing to compete and love to put in that work and you know they're going to step up and work hard when the time comes and it's needed and that's what David Perron does. He's ready for the moment, he's not scared of it and he likes to battle and win hockey games. That's what you want on your team.

On potential for offense to continue to score so much:
I think so. First of all, I don't think that's how we're looking at things. I don't think we're in the room trying to score the most goals in the league. That's not our mindset, trying to do what we have to do to win hockey games, but I think we have the pieces that are there and a lot are coming back. And whatever else happens after that and whoever else is in that room, I think we'll find a way to work together and we got a lot of guys that can score goals consistently and I don't see guys losing that ability over the summer.

On if Scott Perunovich is ready for a top six role:
Yeah, I think he hasn't played many games realistically over the last three years. The college season, what not. So him getting in those games and getting that experience of playoff hockey is good for him to know what that feels like. Some nights, he didn't play a ton of minutes but being on the bench watching and seeing how intense it is and how hard it is, is great for him. I think he's going to have a good opportunity, I'd imagine, to cement himself and put himself in this league and he's just got to keep going. Obviously we spend the summers, you work out, you do whatever you need to do and he’s skating and doing all that stuff. But him just seeing how hard it is I think will be good for him to know that and that he handled it pretty well. The confidence that he can do it and be a contributor.

On Niko Mikkola's growth:
I think he got a lot of experiences here. He played up and down through the lineup. He spent a lot of time there with (Colton) Parayko on the top pair against some of the other teams’ top lines and then he had some time where he's in and out of the lineup and then he came back in playoffs and played well. I think when you see that and see how well he played at the end there, was able to step back in and make an impact, it's a true sign of him learning and developing throughout the year and not just getting complacent. And so I think as he continues to grow and he hasn't played a ton of games either in this league but to play more and to get that more experience, he's got the ability to come in and still make an impact every night and another guy that can take a step and cement himself in the lineup at some point.

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