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Faceoff specialists can change outcome of game

by Adam Schwartz

While some hockey observers may gloss over faceoffs, they are an integral part of a club's success. It takes experience and know-how to excel in the faceoff circle, which is why few rookies are counted on by their coaches to take important draws.

The faceoff is an underappreciated skill and gives a team all-important puck possession. And as simple as it may sound, a team can't score unless it has possession of the puck.

Former NHL player Adam Oates, who was an elite draw man before retiring in 2004, believed his lacrosse faceoff skills transferred to hockey. Many active NHL players grew up playing lacrosse as well as hockey because both are popular in Canada.

The following is a list of five of the best draw men in the Eastern Conference.

1. Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes -- Brind'Amour continues to play major minutes for Carolina and his faceoff skills are unrivaled. Last season he missed the Hurricanes' last 22 games because of a torn knee ligament, but he still won the third-most faceoffs in the League with 851 while taking 40.1 percent of Carolina's draws -- the second-highest percentage in the League. The previous season, Brind'Amour won 209 more faceoffs than anyone in the League with 1,213, and had the best faceoff winning percentage at 59.2.

2. Bobby Holik, New Jersey Devils -- When the Devils brought back Holik they immediately became one of the best teams in the League in the faceoff circle. Holik, along with John Madden, will take all of New Jersey's important faceoffs this season. Holik won the second-most faceoffs in the League last season with 877, and his 58.4-percent faceoff winning percentage was the best in the Eastern Conference while taking 31.5 percent of Atlanta's faceoffs.

3. Saku Koivu, Montreal Canadiens -- Koivu, Montreal's captain for the past eight seasons, has taken at least 30 percent of the Canadiens' faceoffs in the last three seasons. At 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, Koivu doesn't win many faceoffs by pushing the opposing center off the puck, so he has to rely on his quickness and creativity. Koivu has been among the top 15 in faceoff wins the past three seasons and that doesn't figure to change this season.

4. Mike Sillinger, New York Islanders -- Sillinger is one of just four players who have had at least a 56.0-percent faceoff success rate in the last two seasons. Last season Sillinger was eighth in the League with a 56.3-percent faceoff winning percentage. Sillinger, who won 85 of 131 power-play faceoffs (64.9 percent), took 34.6 percent of the Islanders' faceoffs last season, the eighth-highest percentage in the League.

5. David Steckel, Washington Capitals -- The most common flaw for rookie centers is in the faceoff circle, but Steckel isn't most centers. Steckel led the League's rookies and was seventh overall with a 56.3-percent faceoff winning rate last season. In the five previous seasons no rookie has been in the top 10 in the League in faceoff winning percentage.

While most Washington observers flock to the flashy Alexander Ovechkin, Steckel plays an important role as a defensive center and kills penalties. Steckel took just 23.3 percent of the Capitals' faceoffs last season, but should see more time in the circle this season.

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