It was back in December and Philadelphia Flyers broadcaster Brian Propp had a kid cornered outside the Edmonton Oilers dressing room at the Wachovia Center. Handing the young man his business card, Propp instructed him to write his address, home-phone number, cell-phone number and e-mail address.
"Yo, Propp, you lending money to kids on the road?" A Philadelphian asked him. "Maybe you should take his watch as collateral? Nice watch."
"No, no," Propp protested. "This is Jarret Stoll. I grew up with his dad in Lanigan, Saskatchewan. We were in the same grade and on the same teams until Junior B when I went up to play for the Melville Millionaires. His dad's big and strong so he played defense."
"Stoll's leading the NHL in faceoff winning percentage," Propp was told. "Sixty-three point one percent. That's unheard of for a second-year player. Better interview him now, before Yannick Perreault overtakes him!"
Stoll grinned. He knows that Perreault has led the NHL in that category the past five seasons. He included Perreault in his list of the five toughest faceoff competitors in the Western Conference.
"Mike Modano is strong and fast," Stoll said. "Then I'd say Perreault and Greg Johnson, which gives Nashville two of the best, followed by Stephane Yelle and Jason Arnott, just because he's so strong."
Stoll said he was surprised he's had some success against Joe Sakic, one of the best.
"He's more smart than strong," Stoll said. "I can't explain it, just hope it keeps up. Oh, Steve Yzerman kills me, there's another good one."
Stoll said he's yet to match up against the Beast of the East, the Carolina Hurricanes' Rod Brind'Amour. The teams didn't meet during the regular season, but could if Edmonton and Carolina advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. At present, he is 86-79 with a 52.1 winning percentage.
"I've watched him a lot," Stoll said of Brind'Amour. "He's smart and strong and has a lot of moves. Definitely one of the best."
Stoll won 492 of 841 even-strength faceoffs, or 58.5 percent; 177 of 289 power-play faceoffs, or 61.2 percent; and 96 of 218 shorthanded faceoffs, only 44 percent, the lone weakness area. Overall, he won 765 of 1,348 faceoffs this season, or 56.8 percent, fifth-best in the NHL.
Stoll has a simple approach to winning faceoffs. He's 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, so he's got the size and strength to match up against most opposing centers. He's a bright, well-spoken man of obvious intelligence. Then, comes the intangibles. He has a burning desire to win. It's really simple, as he sees it. Good things can happen when you win a faceoff and bad things when you don't.
The 2005-06 NHL regular season was a roller-coaster of excitement and great play, many of them made by Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. But Stoll's favorite memory is a faceoff.
Stoll thinks the top play might be New Jersey Devils' center John Madden's Nov. 29 faceoff win against the Boston Bruins' Joe Thornton that, in the blink of an eye, led to Alexander Mogilny's winning goal with 32 seconds remaining.
"That shows you can win games off faceoffs. That's how important they are. You can also lose games because of them so you have to treat every single one of them as important. We've scored a lot of goals off faceoffs this year," Stoll said. "With the new rules, with all the power-plays and penalty kills, faceoffs are more important this season than ever. I take a lot of pride in winning faceoffs. And, it's very important to all of our other centers."
Stoll is skilled in many facets of the game and has been a solid contributor for the Oilers since his arrival.
There were 13 NHL players who have taken 30 percent or more of their team's faceoffs, topped by Brind'Amour's 43.8 percent. But none of them play for Edmonton, where each center is trusted and expected to win. Not surprising, their coach, Craig MacTavish, was one of the game's great clutch faceoff men in his 18-year NHL career.
"We work on it a lot in practice, every day," Stoll said. "We all go one-on-one against each other. We talk about what we're doing while we're doing it and we work on new tricks. I'd say I have five or six basic moves, with variations. You can't keep relying on the same move or they'll figure you out. The subject of faceoffs might come up at any time, on the bus, wherever, especially when we're thinking about an upcoming game and who we'll be facing, which centers."
Stoll holds an interesting place in modern hockey-economic history. His saga is worth recalling in light of the subsequent collective-bargaining impasse that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
Stoll was the Calgary Flames' second pick, 46th overall, in the 2000 Entry Draft. Calgary, struggling with the game's economics prior to the new era of cost certainty, couldn't come to terms with Stoll and his agent, Don Meehan. Near the end of Calgary's two-year window to sign Stoll, the Toronto Maple Leafs, then the only profitable Canadian team, entered the picture, offering to meet Meehan's terms while offering Calgary a second-round and fourth-round pick. The League nixed the deal, fearful of the consequences of economic inequities among teams and resolved to eradicate them.
Stoll was ordered back into the 2002 Entry Draft and was selected in the second round, 36th overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Stoll, thus, was that rarity who gets picked higher in the draft after refusing an initial offer. Of course, he greatly enhanced his stature the year after Calgary selected him, when he finished fourth in Western Hockey League scoring with 40 goals and 66 assists for 106 points in 62 games. That earned him a berth on the Canadian Major Junior first all-star team.
His value also increased after he was named captain of Team Canada at the 2002 World Junior Championship and after captaining the Kootenay Ice to the 2002 Memorial Cup. It took a six-game series against the defending Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels to advance to the Canadian junior-hockey championship. Three of those games went to overtime, including the double-OT final. Stoll also led Kootenay to the 2000 Western Hockey League championship and a berth in that year's Memorial Cup.
Stoll won a silver medal at the 2002 WJC and a bronze medal the previous year. He won gold with Team Canada at the 1999 Under-18 Four Nations Cup. He had a lot of success prior to turning professional, often in a leadership role.
Prior to the 2002 Memorial Cup semifinal game, Erie Otters captain and Team Canada teammate Brad Boyes said this about Stoll:
"If his team is anything like him, they are going to be a pretty good team. He's a great player and he's a leader. He was a leader on the World Junior team and he's going to definitely be a guy we have to look after and watch."
"I'm very happy with Edmonton," Stoll said. "I'm playing a lot and I'm playing in all situations, even strength, power play and penalty killing. Our team is very competitive in what's probably the strongest division of the NHL. I'm working hard to try to be a valuable all-around player for the Oilers."