Ranking the Top 10 Faceoff Men in the NHL

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IApril 16, 2013

Ranking the Top 10 Faceoff Men in the NHL

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    Winning faceoffs isn't as glamorous or exciting to fans as players scoring goals, but it's a very important part of winning NHL games.

    So many of the goals that fans watch each night are a result of a faceoff victory because winning the puck possession battle is a crucial part of each team's success.

    Every team needs a couple of forwards who excel in the faceoff circle, which is why so many centers are coveted at the trade deadline each season.

    Let's look at the 10 best faceoff men in the NHL.

10) Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks

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    Vancouver Canucks star center Ryan Kesler has missed 36 games since the start of the 2011-12 season, and his absence from the lineup gave Vancouver some serious problems down the middle before the Derek Roy trade.

    One of those problems is winning faceoffs. The Canucks rank 26th in faceoff percentage (47.5) this season, which is a category they finished third in last year.

    Kesler missing 31 games thus far in 2013 is the main reason why Vancouver has struggled in the faceoff dot. The veteran center has taken 196 faceoffs in 11 games with 110 wins (56.1 percent) this season, which is the best percentage on the Canucks among all players who have taken 100 or more draws.

    Last season, Kesler led the Canucks in faceoffs taken (1,351), ranked second in faceoffs won (627) and also finished second in faceoff percentage (53.6).

    Kesler also wins draws when the pressure to win games is heightened in the playoffs. He led the 2010-11 NHL playoffs in faceoff wins with 329 while also winning 53.1 percent of his faceoffs during the 2009-10 postseason.

9) David Steckel, Anaheim Ducks

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    David Steckel is a quality depth forward who gives his team some much-needed faceoff skill for important draws taken in the defensive and offensive zones.

    The 31-year-old veteran leads the Anaheim Ducks with a 54.3 faceoff percentage this season and also ranks third on the team in both faceoffs wins and total draws taken. He has played in 28 games this year, 13 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and 15 as a member of the Ducks.

    Steckel also led the Leafs in faceoff percentage (58.0) last season and will always have value to his team because of his ability to win draws in high-pressure situations.

8) Antoine Vermette, Phoenix Coyotes

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    It was a little surprising that Antoine Vermette wasn't traded before the April 3 deadline because the Phoenix Coyotes were outside of a playoff spot and the veteran center would have been a great addition to a championship contender because of his faceoff skill.

    Vermette ranks fifth in the NHL in faceoff percentage (59.4) among all players who have taken 300 or more draws. His 441 faceoff wins are the eighth most among all players, and he also leads the Coyotes in faceoffs won, taken and win percentage.

    Last season, Vermette finished second on the Coyotes in faceoff wins (645), draws taken (1,140) and win percentage (56.5). He also ranked 11th in faceoff percentage among all players who took 400-plus draws in 2011-12.

    As one of the most reliable faceoff men in the league, Vermette is a valuable part of the Coyotes offense, which does not have much skill or depth at the center position.

7) Paul Gaustad, Nashville Predators

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    One of the reasons why the Nashville Predators dealt a first-round pick at the 2012 trade deadline to the Buffalo Sabres for center Paul Gaustad was for his faceoff ability.

    Gaustad leads the Predators in faceoff percentage (59.7) and ranks third on the team in faceoff wins (268) and draws taken (449). He also ranks fourth in faceoff percentage among all NHL players who have taken at least 250 draws.

    Winning faceoffs is just one part of Gaustad's skill set that makes him a valuable defensive forward. He also kills penalties, blocks shots and plays a physical game.

6) Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Sidney Crosby wasn't great at faceoffs when he entered the NHL as a rookie in the 2005-06 season, but to his credit, he has significantly improved this area of his game.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins star led the NHL in faceoff wins with 453 when he suffered a jaw injury on March 30, but Crosby is now fifth in this category because of the six games he's missed. He also has a respectable 54.3 faceoff percentage.

    The power play has been a key part of the Penguins' ability to win games consistently this season, and Crosby is a major part of that success with a team-leading 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) with the man advantage. His 99 faceoff wins on the power play are the second most in the league.

    Crosby impacts the game in so many ways for Pittsburgh, and one area that he's worked so hard on to improve over the last few years is winning faceoffs. The Penguins rank seventh in faceoff percentage this season, which can be largely attributed to Crosby.

5) Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    One of the reasons why Joe Thornton tallies a lot of points is because he wins so many faceoffs.

    The former Hart Trophy winner leads the San Jose Sharks in faceoff percentage (60.4), faceoffs won (366) and draws taken (606).

    The Sharks captain is also one of seven players with a power-play faceoff percentage that is better than his success rate at even strength.

    Thornton ranks third in faceoff percentage among all NHL players who have taken at least 250 draws. He has also won at least 53.9 percent of his faceoffs in each of the last four seasons.

    His success in the faceoff circle is one reason why San Jose ranks second in the league in faceoff percentage.

4) Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

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    Pavel Datsyuk has great hands, tremendous quickness and underrated strength, which helps him win a lot of faceoffs.

    He's also someone who Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock will often turn to if his team needs an important faceoff win in the defensive zone.

    The veteran center leads the Red Wings in faceoff wins (432), win percentage (55.2) and draws taken (783).

    His faceoff success has also had a major impact on the Red Wings' performance on special teams. Datsyuk ranks fourth in both power play (87) and short-handed (69) faceoffs won.

    One of the reasons why Datsyuk won three straight Frank J. Selke trophies from 2007-08 through 2009-10 was because of his brilliance in the faceoff circle.

3) Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Claude Giroux is making a strong impact offensively this season with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 42 games for the Philadelphia Flyers, but the faceoff aspect of his game has really improved this year.

    He leads the NHL in faceoffs taken (1,051) and won (566) while also having a 53.6 faceoff percentage.

    Giroux leads all NHL players in faceoff wins on the road (279), at home (287) and on the power play (113). He also ranks fourth in short-handed faceoff wins (69).

    Regardless of the situation, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette can put Giroux on the ice and be comfortable that his superstar forward will win an important faceoff.

    The Flyers captain has been one of the few bright spots in what has been a disappointing season in Philadelphia.

2) Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jonathan Toews is one of the elite faceoff men in the NHL and one of the most reliable players in this aspect of the game.

    Whether he's on the power play or killing a penalty, coaches can depend on the Chicago Blackhawks captain to win important draws for his team.

    Here are his faceoff stats from the last few seasons.

    Year FO Wins FO%
    2013 834 60.4
    2011-12 675 59.4
    2010-11 973 56.9
    2009-10 801 57.3
    2008-09 704 54.7

    Toews is one of the most consistent faceoff performers in the NHL, and his ability to win draws in the defensive zone is a main reason why the Blackhawks rank fifth in penalty killing.

    He also ranks third in faceoff wins (566), first in even-strength faceoff wins (390) and fifth among all players in power-play faceoff wins (83) this season. Over the last three years, Toews has won 60.3 percent of his faceoffs taken during the playoffs.

    If a coach had to pick one player in the league to take a defensive zone faceoff in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final while protecting a one-goal lead, Toews would be at or near the top of the list.

1) Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

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    The Boston Bruins lead the NHL in faceoff percentage (56.8), which is a category they finished first in during the 2011-12 season.

    Boston has ranked in the top five in faceoff percentage in each of the last three seasons, and the success of Patrice Bergeron in this area of the game is a major reason for that.

    Bergeron leads the league in faceoff percentage (61.5) among all players who have taken 250 or more draws. He also ranks sixth in faceoff wins with 453 and seventh in short-handed faceoff wins with 61.

    The Bruins star plays a major role on special teams, especially the penalty kill. Boston has the best penalty kill in the league, and one of the primary reasons for this success is Bergeron's ability to win defensive zone draws so his teammates can ice the puck. Bergeron has lost only 34 short-handed faceoffs, which is the fewest total of anyone in the top 20 of short-handed faceoff wins.

    Faceoff success also played a part in Bergeron winning the Frank J. Selke trophy last year as the league's top defensive forward. He led the NHL in faceoff wins (973) and finished fourth in draws taken during the 2011-12 season (1,641).

    The Bruins would not be able to dominate defensively and rank in the top five in GAA and penalty killing if Bergeron was not one of the league's top faceoff forwards.

     

    Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston.