In an era of hockey obsessed with puck control and dissected with puck-possession metrics, it stands to reason that winning a faceoff is a key component to gaining said puck. But flying in the face of that logic is the fact the past three Stanley Cup champions finished 13th, 28th and 15th in team faceoff efficiency. Go figure.
That goes to show you having a one-two center tandem at the top of your depth chart like Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin or Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom can go a long way towards moving the puck in a positive direction, even if they’re not the best on draws. In ranking each team’s crop of centers, Pittsburgh’s pair plus reliable bottom six and secondary options kept it at No. 1. Toronto’s top-three heavy pivots came in a close second.
In our criteria, we considered offensive production followed by two-way prowess and faceoff efficiency as well as other intangibles. Players out all season with injuries were left off. In some cases, a natural center is playing the wing, but is often called upon for faceoffs. Examples are Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, Calgary’s Elias Lindholm, Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl. We classified them as wingers in this exercise because that’s the position they play more than center.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, Matt Cullen
An imposing top three. Sheahan and Grant also very strong in the circle.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Nazem Kadri, Par Lindholm
Quality and quantity. Kadri a gem at No. 3 and Lindholm among the best No. 4s.
3. Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kyle Brodziak
One of RNH or Draisaitl usually on wing. McDavid’s flaw is 42.3% career at dot.
4. Washington Capitals
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nick Backstrom, Lars Eller, Nic Dowd
Crafty and talented in top half, and Eller among the top few No. 3 pivots.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Cedric Paquette
It helps that wingers Johnson, Miller and Gourde also adept, active on draws.
6. Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Sean Kuraly, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson
Bergeron No. 1 in wins and efficiency in league since lost lockout season.
7. St. Louis Blues
Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Tyler Bozak, Robert Thomas
O’Reilly and Bozak beasts on the draw; production an eye-opener as well.
8. San Jose Sharks
Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Antti Suomela
Growing depth on wings can keep Sharks three-vet strong down middle.
9. Nashville Predators
Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons
No jaw-dropping heavyweights here, just a deep group of cruiserweights.
10. Dallas Stars
Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Radek Faksa, Jason Dickinson
Faceoff ace Spezza playing his best in two years. Stars dominating at dot.
11. Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Adam Henrique, Kalle Kossila
Injuries, age taking a toll on production. But tighten up your chin straps.
12. Calgary Flames
Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Derek Ryan, Mark Jankowski
A passive bunch physically, but sniping Lindholm takes many draws now.
13. New York Islanders
Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Valtteri Filppula, Casey Cizikas
Quietly the most productive and balanced group of four pivots in league.
14. Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Kerfoot, Carl Soderberg, Tyson Jost
MacKinnon a patsy at dot, but if he’s tossed Landeskog comes up strong.
15. Vancouver Canucks
Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, Brandon Sutter, Adam Gaudette
Horvat busiest faceoff man in league. Injuries to Sutter, Beagle hurt efficiency.
16. Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jared McCann, Juho Lammikko
Rare to see top two centers so strong at playmaking, finishing and faceoffs.
17. Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Marcus Kruger
Toews aside, this group gets punished on draws as well as offensive output.
18. Minnesota Wild
Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Joel Eriksson Ek, Eric Fehr
Experience at top. Not as explosive as some teams, but very much two-way.
19. Vegas Golden Knights
William Karlsson, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Injury to Stastny has dragged down group. Add him and they crack top 10.
20. Carolina Hurricanes
Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, Lucas Wallmark
Injury to Rask hurts depth. Aho producing and others winning faceoffs.
21. Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp
Jets more dominant on wings and ‘D,’ but Scheifele an ace and Lowry unsung.
22. Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Adrian Kempe, Nate Thompson
Career credentials and faceoff efficiency solid, but sticks have gone cold.
23. Philadelphia Flyers
Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Jordan Weal, Jori Lehtera
Flyers near top in faceoff prowess as Couturier looks to regain magic.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, Riley Nash
Lack of bona fide No. 1 hurts and Nash has been a supreme flop UFA signing.
25. Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening, Jacob de la Rose
Larkin having his best start. Nielsen and Glendening solid on two-way front.
26. Ottawa Senators
Matt Duchene, Chris Tierney, Colin White, Zack Smith
Playing above expectations. This group a 100-percent turnover from a year ago.
27. Buffalo Sabres
Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt, Patrik Berglund, Johan Larsson
Eichel doing some serious man-hauling until Casey’s game rounds into form.
28. New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Brett Howden, Filip Chytil
Early in rebuild, centers playing one line above their weight class. No shame.
29. Arizona Coyotes
Alex Galchenyuk, Derek Stepan, Nick Schmaltz, Brad Richardson
Injury to Dvorak takes away the depth. Galchenyuk getting schooled in circle.
30. Montreal Canadiens
Max Domi, Phillip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Matthew Peca
No complaints about Domi’s production, but it gets dry or young after that.
31. New Jersey Devils
Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, Pavel Zacha, Brian Boyle
Bounce-back for Zajac, reinforcements for Nico are much in demand.
This story appears in the January 28, 2019 of The Hockey News magazine.