Gordon’s first NHL season came in 2003-04 with the Washington Capitals. The first-round pick was searching for his niche, but it didn’t appear like taking faceoffs was going to be it. He took the fifth most draws on the team that season, winning 43 per cent.
Those numbers seem pedestrian compared to Gordon now. With lots of work and gained experience, he has become one of the top faceoff men in the NHL.
This season, Gordon has hovered around 56 per cent on draws, a recurring theme for the centre since his fourth year in
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the League. “It wasn’t a huge focus in my development stage but I think once you turn pro you’ve got to find what you do well,” Gordon said. “You have to do something that stands out from someone else. For me, I’m not a power forward by any means or a goal scorer so I had to find something I could do. Faceoffs are one of those elements I could focus on and it’s something that every team needs. When I first came into being a pro player, that’s something that I put maybe a little more emphasis on.”
Gordon’s father, along with long-time NHL player, turned WHL and NHL coach Brent Sutter, were two figures who helped him get better along the way. But it’s also his inherent competitive spirit that drives Gordon’s success in the dot.
Gordon looks at every draw as a battle between two players. When he skates forward to take the faceoff, it’s just the two players, the official and the puck.
“You want the win. You want the puck,” he said.
Gordon’s strategy is a simple one— clear your mind and win the battle.
“There are not a lot of guys that take draws like me,” Gordon said.
“I just try to battle hard, try not to think too much and just try to win the draw. That’s all I really try to do.”
Gordon may like to clear his mind before taking a faceoff, but there is a lot of preparation that goes into being one of the best.
Over time, you learn the little tendencies and nuances of your opponents. When you’ve seen as many draws as Gordon has, there is not much left that can surprise you.
“With the more you play, you play against guys a long time and you know their tendencies,” Gordon said. “A lot of times, I just go off of what you know they’re going to do or what you expect them to do.”
Gordon’s savviness when it comes to taking draws is admired by his teammates. Take rookie centre Leon Draisaitl for example. The youngster watches Gordon, hoping to get better with his own game.
“He’s really good at it,” Draisaitl said. “He’s been really good at it for years. He’s definitely a guy I can learn a lot from.”
With the Oilers, Gordon has been relied upon much more in the faceoff department than at previous career stops. Last season, Gordon lined up and took 1,492 draws. That is the most he’s taken in a single season over the course of his entire career.
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Not only do the Oilers ask him to take a significant amount of faceoffs, but Gordon is also expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
While on the ice this season, Gordon has been called upon to take around 70 per cent of faceoffs in the defensive zone, compared to around 10 per cent in the offensive zone. He is a large part of the Oilers penalty kill and playing that role is where he makes his living.
“Things change in the game but I’ve always been the guy that’s killed penalties and taken a lot of D-zone draws before I got here,” Gordon said. “Since I’ve come to Edmonton, I’ve really focused in on D-zone starts and it’s more of an extreme role than I’ve done in the past.”
His approach to these important faceoffs in the defensive zone is very similar to any other battle. However, Gordon recognizes that there’s a little more pressure and a little more on the line when that puck is in your own end.
“Our line starts a lot in our own end so I just know that if things aren’t going well on the draw, things aren’t going well in the game,” Gordon said. “Especially in your own end, where you lose a draw in the D-zone and it can result in a scoring chance. You obviously want to win it, but in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, if you lose it, it’s not the be-all and end-all. There is obviously a little more importance in the D-zone, just for the fact that you give up a scoring chance right away.”
Losing defensive zone draws is not something Gordon takes lightly.
“It’s annoying every time you lose a draw. It might not seem like a big deal but it is,” Gordon said. “If you lose the puck in the neutral zone, they’re dumping it into your end instead of you going and forechecking and trying to score on their end. I know that if it’s a good draw day, you have a better chance at having a better game I find. If it’s a bad day on the draws it might not be as good a game. That’s not in all cases, but you want to help your chances by starting out with the puck.”
Gordon is a battler. He’s a blue-collar, hard-working player, known for his sacrifice in playing the hard minutes and blocking as many shots as he can. However, the thing Gordon brings that the Oilers may be most grateful for is his prowess at puck drop.