20 NHL Players You Trust Most to Win a Face-Off

Tom Schreier@tschreier3Correspondent IFebruary 23, 2013

20 NHL Players You Trust Most to Win a Face-Off

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    In order to determine which players were best in a faceoff, I looked at how each player fared in the past three years, going back to the 2009-10 season. I took this year into consideration, but with the shortened schedule and injuries to players, the numbers are not only going to change dramatically in short time, but they are also not equal among the best faceoff takers in the league.

    Emphasis was placed on amount of faceoffs taken and faceoff percentage, but I also looked at how well each player did in power-play or shorthanded situations (via NHL.com). Usage in the faceoff circle—even strength or otherwise—was the determining factor between two players with similar winning percentages.

    "LSS" stands for limited sample size for players who did not take many faceoffs during a particular season.

20. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,098; 984; 1,115

    Faceoff Percentages: 49.5, 52.4, 49.1

    Zetterberg primarily plays left wing for Detroit but is relatively reliable when the pivot is tossed from the circle.

    Less than 50 percent is nothing special for an everyday center, but that is not his role. He has taken close to 1,000 faceoffs in the past three years, however, and fared well during the 2010-11 season.

19. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Total Faceoffs: LSS in 2010; 1,095; 1,543

    Faceoff Percentages: LSS in 2010, 50.0, 53.7

    Despite playing right wing for the Flyers, Giroux has proven that he can handle his own in the faceoff circle. Seldom used in 2010, he took more faceoffs than most centers in the league last season and did just fine with an increased workload.

18. John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,129; 1,319; 1,586

    Faceoff Percentages: 47.5, 52.5, 51.3

    Tavares had a strong rookie campaign but struggled in the faceoff circle.

    In the last two years, however, he has taken an increasing number of faceoffs each season and is now winning more than half of his draws.

    As a former No. 1 overall pick, Tavares will ultimately be judged on how many goals he scores, but he will also need to be reliable while taking faceoffs if he wants to be considered one of the league’s best centers.

17. Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,014; 1,025; 1,443

    Faceoff Percentages: 47.8, 51.8, 52.8

    Like Tavares, O’Reilly struggled with faceoffs during what was an otherwise solid rookie year. He was not called upon to take many faceoffs in 2010-11 but took nearly 1,500 last season and saw his percentage increase five percent in three years.

16. Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Total Faceoffs: LSS in 2010; 1,441; 1,198

    Faceoff Percentages: LSS in 2010, 54.6, 52.7

    Bozak will never be an elite scoring forward in the league, but he has become an asset in the faceoff circle and appears to be finding a niche for himself on this roster.

15. Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,018; 1,210; 1,700

    Faceoff Percentages: 50.5, 56.3, 53.5

    The “S” in the old CASH Line, Spezza has found the back of the net frequently in his career, but he has also improved his faceoff percentage—even with a dramatic increase in numbers of faceoffs taken last season.

    In 2011-12, Spezza led the league in faceoffs taken and did not see a dramatic decrease from the 56-percent win percentage he posted in 2010-11.

14. Stephen Weiss, Florida Panthers

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,551; 1,279; 1,469

    Faceoff Percentages: 52.4, 53.9, 53.2

    A veteran center who has played his entire career in South Florida, Weiss can be relied on to win faceoffs. He does not win an astronomical number of them, but he is often asked to take a majority of them for his team and emerges from the circle victorious more often than not.

13. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

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    Total Faceoffs: 821; 1,020; 864

    Faceoff Percentages: 58.1, 54.3, 58.7

    Pavelski does not take many faceoffs, but that is because of the plethora of centers on the Sharks. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture are all centers, and San Jose head coach Todd McLellan occasionally has Pavelski line up as a winger.

    He is fully capable of handling his duties at center, however, and lack of prowess in the faceoff circle has not forced him to play another position.

12. Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,703; 1,524; 1,424

    Faceoff Percentages: 50.0, 53.2, 55.4

    With a decreased workload, Stastny has been able to increase his faceoff numbers without having to dip so low that he cannot play on the first line.

    As long as he stays near or below the 1,500-faceoff threshold, it appears that he is able to win a majority of the draws he takes.

11. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,791; 981; LSS in 2012

    Faceoff Percentages: 55.9, 55.6, LSS in 2012

    Due to injury, Crosby has a relatively small sample size to work with recently.

    He still belongs on this list, however. When healthy, he usually wins his faceoffs and usually centers the first line even when paired with Evgeni Malkin, a natural center. 

10. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,228; 1,240; 993

    Faceoff Percentages: 53.9, 54.4, 56.1

    The fact that Thornton is the first-line center on the Sharks, a team that has stockpiled pivots over the years, shows you how much this team trusts him to not only dish out sublime passes, but also win faceoffs in crucial moments.

    He does not take as many faceoffs as, say, Weiss, Stastny or Spezza, but he wins the ones he takes at a higher rate than those players.

9. Manny Malhotra, Sharks/Canucks

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    Total Faceoffs: LSS in 2010; 1,261; 916

    Faceoff Percentages: LSS in 2010, 61.7, 58.6

    Malhotra did not take many faceoffs in 2010, but he was also playing for the Sharks.

    When he moved up north to Vancouver, the Canucks used him as a faceoff specialist, and he thrived in the role. Sixty-one percent? Are you kidding me?

    He took fewer faceoffs last season and won fewer of them, but, really, did anyone expect him to win 60 percent of his draws two seasons in a row?

8. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,070; 785; 1,249

    Faceoff Percentages: 55.1, 54.6, 56.2

    Datsyuk is better known for his ankle-breaking dangles and head-turning wrist shots, but he’s also no slouch in the faceoff circle.

    His lack of faceoffs in 2010-11 is a result of injury cutting his season short. He probably will not take 1,500-1,700 draws like other centers, but he is more than capable of winning a majority of the time—even when he enters the circle more than 1,000 times in a season.

7. Antoine Vermette, Coyotes/Blue Jackets

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,573; 1,540; 1,140

    Faceoff Percentages: 54.2, 55.6, 56.6

    His ability to win in the faceoff circle makes Vermette a good fit in Dave Tippett’s defense-first system in the desert.

    The longtime Blue Jacket and Senator has seen that part of his game translate after coming over to Phoenix, even if he is scoring less frequently than he did at the last two stops.

6. Jarret Stoll, Los Angeles Kings

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,105; 1,310; 1,204

    Faceoff Percentages: 56.0, 57.5, 55.0

    Better known for appearing on Cribs and dating Erin Andrews and Rachel Hunter, Stoll also does comparatively more boring things like, you know, winning faceoffs.

    Hey, that and the 20-odd goals he chips in every year allow him to live that kind of lifestyle.

5. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,401; 1,496; 1,351

    Faceoff Percentages: 55.1, 57.4, 53.6

    Kesler makes his money as a scoring forward, but he is entirely capable of winning faceoffs.

    After an incredible 2010-11 campaign where he scored 41 goals and won 57 percent of his faceoffs, he had a bit of a drop-off last year.

    If you can take 1,400 draws in 82 games, win a majority of them and drop 40 goals in a good year, however, nobody is going to blame you for having a small slump after a breakout season.

4. Paul Gaustad, Sabres/Predators

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,043; 1,158; 1,150

    Faceoff Percentages: 57.4, 59.8, 57.3

    The longtime Buffalo Sabre is capable of netting 10 goals a season but makes his money in the faceoff circle. His deft hands will be appreciated in Nashville, a team that, like Buffalo, emphasizes defense and scoring by committee.

3. David Steckel, Leafs/Capitals/Devils

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,076; 820; 1,108

    Faceoff Percentages: 59.2, 62.3, 58.0

    It doesn’t matter if he is in New Jersey, Washington or Toronto: David Steckel wins faceoffs.

    Hell, he could be on Mars and beat the Martians to the punch.

    He is not a top-line-caliber player, so he takes fewer draws, but if you need to toss someone out there to win a draw in the crucible of battle, Steckel is more than capable of getting the job done.

2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,397; 1,653; 1,137

    Faceoff Percentages: 57.3, 56.7, 59.4

    Not only is he a great leader and scoring threat, Toews also can win faceoffs at an incredible rate. Injury kept him out of the circle last year, but even with a large workload, the Blackhawks captain can be counted on to win around 57 percent of his draws in a year.

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

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    Total Faceoffs: 1,342; 1,439; 1,641

    Faceoff Percentages: 58.0, 56.6, 59.3

    Last season Bergeron was asked to take over 1,600 faceoffs and nearly won 60 percent of them. This is no fluke: Over the years, the 27-year-old has proven that he is capable of winning faceoffs at an incredible rate.

    He may not score at the rate Toews does, but if you want somebody you can trust to take a lot of faceoffs and win a majority of them, Bergeron is your guy.


    Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com and contributes to Hockey’s Future and Stadium Journey.