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Rookie Watch: Top face-off winners

Steel of Ducks, Lizotte of Kings among best first-year players

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The play of several high-profile rookies, including forwards Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils and Kaapo Kakko of the New York Rangers, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks of the 2019 NHL Draft, respectively, is one of the major storylines of the 2019-20 season. Each Monday, will examine topics related to this season's class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, the top five NHL rookies in face-off winning percentage (minimum 150 face-offs taken):


1. Sam Steel, F, Anaheim Ducks: The 21-year-old leads all NHL rookies with a 52.2 face-off winning percentage (156-for-299), including 52.5 percent (136-for-259) at even strength. He has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) and averages 15:22 of ice time in 28 games. 

"I think he's learning great lessons every day whether it's in the weight room or at practice and, most importantly, in the games," Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. "I think he's progressing really well. Those little things in games usually turning into big things, and he's doing a lot of little things well right now."

Video: ANA@ARI: Steel scores in 2nd period


2. Blake Lizotte, F, Los Angeles Kings: The 21-year-old center ranks second among NHL rookies with a 50.9 face-off winning percentage (160-for-314) and is first in face-offs taken in 34 games. He has 12 points (three goals, nine assists) while averaging 13:58 in ice time.

"He isn't the biggest guy (5-foot-7, 172 pounds), so he needs to get in there and keep playing hard all the time, and he's doing that with the puck and off the puck," said Kings forward Adrian Kempe. "He wins a lot of battles only because he's down there, he's low and everything like that. It's really easy to play with him. When he gets a lot of pucks back, it gives a lot more chances to play in the offensive zone."

Video: LAK@EDM: Lizotte scores in 1st period


3. Dylan Gambrell, F, San Jose Sharks: The 23-year-old right-hand shot is a valuable fourth-line center, ranking third among rookies with a 49.0 face-off winning percentage (99-for-202) and has six points (two goals, four assists) in 29 games. Gambrell, a second-round pick (No. 60) in the 2016 NHL Draft and re-signed to a two-year contract in July, averages 10:53 in ice time while being used on power play and in penalty-killing situations.

"He had a little tough start but now he's playing a really hard game, and this is what we need," Sharks center Tomas Hertl said. "Good on face-offs, strong on the puck."


4. Nick Suzuki, F, Montreal Canadiens: Suzuki benefits from the guidance of veteran forward Nate Thompson, who thrives on face-offs and as a penalty killer. Suzuki, chosen by the Vegas Golden Knights with the No. 13 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and sent to Montreal in the Max Pacioretty trade on Sept. 10, 2018, ranks fourth among NHL rookies in face-off winning percentage (48.5) and is seventh with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) averaging 14:36 in ice time in 33 games. Thompson, who has won 52.8 percent of his face-offs (3,920-for-7,431) in 730 NHL games, has been a mentor to Suzuki.

"It's good to have him with me in the defensive zone. He's very good at face-offs," Suzuki said of Thompson. "I'm trying to learn new things from him, so I improve in the face-off dot. We study some defensive zone details together. He's been in the league a long time and knows a lot."

Video: NJD@MTL: Suzuki scores PPG in 2nd period


5. Sam Lafferty, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: The 6-foot-1, 195-pound fourth-round pick (No. 113) in the 2014 NHL Draft has 10 points (four goals, six assists), 35 shots on goal and 56 hits in 26 games. He ranks fifth among NHL rookies with a 47.6 face-off winning percentage (79-for-166).


Head to Head comparison

(Games through Dec. 15)

Kaapo Kakko has gone 14 games without a goal and has six assists and 27 shots on goal while averaging 16:15 in ice time over that span. Jack Hughes has gone 15 games without a goal and has three assists and 30 shots on goal while averaging 16:12 in ice time in that span.


Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils

Games: 29

G-A-Pts: 4-8-12

Shots on goal: 58

Avg. ice time: 16:00

Telling stat: The Devils control 48.94 percent of all shots attempted with Hughes on the ice at even strength.

Quotable: "Good players are always around the puck and the puck follows [Hughes] when he has it. He's confident with it and he plays the game at his pace and that's how good players play. The puck just seems to follow him around and when he has it, you know he's getting people out of their seats." -- Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin


Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers

Games: 30

G-A-Pts: 6-8-14

Shots on goal: 57

Avg. ice time: 15:45

Telling stat: He had an assist in a 3-1 loss at the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday and led all skaters with an NHL career-high eight shots on goal in 19:23 of ice time. 

Quotable: "I don't envy [the position of these rookies]. They're under the microscope all the time and expected to produce and, as an 18-year-old, it's difficult to produce at this level. It takes a little bit of time for them to insert some of the other things to be successful which allow you to be productive offensively." -- Rangers coach David Quinn


Morreale's Calder Trophy frontrunners

1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: Makar has missed the past three games with an upper-body injury but could return to the lineup this week. He ranks first among NHL rookie defensemen with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 29 games.

2. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks: Ranks third among rookies with 25 points (two goals, 23 assists) and first with 14 power-play points (one goal, 13 assists) while averaging 20:59 of ice time in 32 games.

3. Victor Olofsson, F, Buffalos Sabres: Olofsson is first among rookies with 14 goals and 30 points, eight power-play goals and 85 shots on goal in 34 games. He has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his past seven games.

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