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Nichol best in the West at winning faceoffs

by Adam Schwartz

A faceoff takes place in just a split second, and while a casual hockey fan may pay little attention to it, it is an important part of the game.

While other flashier skills such as skating, shooting and stickhandling are more widely discussed than faceoff ability, the faceoff is responsible for a team gaining possession of the puck.

Much is made of defensive turnovers that directly lead to goals, but if a team loses a defensive-zone draw, it can have the same costly effect, which is why having centers that are sound in the faceoff circle is essential for success at the NHL level.

The following are five Western Conference players who excel in the faceoff circle.

Scott Nichol, Nashville Predators – At just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Nichol can’t outmuscle many opponents, so he relies on a quick stick and know-how to win draws. Nichol led the League with a 59.8-percent faceoff winning percentage last season, and the season before he led the Predators with a 57.9-percent success rate. Even though Nichol is so proficient in the faceoff circle, he only averaged 13:15 of ice time last season, which is why he only took 17.3 percent of Nashville’s draws.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks – At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Thornton can physically dominate on faceoffs, giving him the strength to win them when he gets tied up. Thornton ranked was No. 25 in the League with a 52.9-percent faceoff success rate last season, but he took 34.8 percent of the Sharks’ faceoffs, which was a higher percentage than any other Western Conference center.

Thornton’s 785 faceoff wins last season were more than anyone else in the Western Conference. He also won the second-most power-play faceoffs in the League last season with 223.  

Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks – Kesler won the third-most faceoffs in the Western Conference last season with 720 and had a 53.0-percent faceoff winning percentage, which led the Canucks. Kesler took so many faceoffs for coach Alain Vigneault last season because no other Vancouver center won more than 51 percent of their draws.
Kesler was relied up for his defensive prowess, and only one player in the Western Conference won more shorthanded faceoffs than Kesler’s 134.

Manny Malhotra, Columbus Blue Jackets – Malhotra, drafted seventh by the New York Rangers in the 1998 Entry Draft, hasn’t developed into a top-line talent, but as the Blue Jackets’ third-line center, he has excelled in the faceoff circle.

Malhotra’s 59.0-percent faceoff success rate was the second in the League, but he took just 1,158 faceoffs – No. 35 in the League – last season. Malhotra isn’t Columbus’ most potent offensive weapon, but he still took 110 power-play faceoffs last season. Malhotra, who has led the Blue Jackets in faceoff winning percentage the last four seasons, has long been relied upon by Columbus coaches to win important draws.

Jarret Stoll, Los Angeles Kings – When Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi traded defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to the Oilers for Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene, he knew he was getting a center he could rely on to take crucial faceoffs.

Stoll is one of just seven players who have at least a 55.0-percent faceoff winning percentage in the past three seasons. Stoll, who is a proficient penalty killer, won the ninth-most shorthanded faceoffs in the League last season with 133.

While Stoll may not be a superstar, he has had at least 30 points in three consecutive seasons and is going to get a chance to play even more this season with the Kings, who finished with the least points in the Western Conference last season.

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