They don’t always get the hype and paydays of an elite-level goal-scorer or goalie, but the NHL’s top faceoff men play a crucial role for their teams. Who are the best in the league? That’s the focus of this week’s THN.com Top 10:
10. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
Bergeron led the Bruins last season with a 56.6 faceoff win percentage and was fifth in the league with 815 total faceoffs won. He’s at 57.5 percent this season and again is fifth overall in the league with 225 faceoffs won.
9. Paul Gaustad, Buffalo
With 189, Gaustad hasn’t won as many faceoffs as fellow Sabres center Derek Roy (195) this season, but his win percentage (58.2) is better than Roy’s (55.4). And Gaustad’s win percentages last season (59.8) and in 2009-10 (57.4) indicate he’ll remain one of the league’s more successful players at the dots.
8. Jason Spezza, Ottawa
One of the more improved faceoff men in the game, Spezza boosted his faceoff win percentage from 50.5 percent in 2009-10 to 56.3 percent last season – and this year, he’s tied for first overall in the league with 260 faceoffs won (and a win percentage of 57.1).
7. Antoine Vermette, Columbus
His Blue Jackets have struggled tremendously, but Vermette keeps chugging along as the team’s top faceoff man. In 2009-10, he was third overall in the NHL in faceoffs won (852) and was third overall again last season with 856 faceoff wins.
6. David Steckel, Toronto
Steckel’s profile has risen since he arrived in Toronto this season, but he’s still the same faceoff machine he was as a Capital and Devil. He’s fourth overall in the league this season with 228 faceoff wins and had a blistering 62.3 win percentage last season.
5. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit
Datsyuk’s stats aren’t as eye-popping as others on this list, but that’s because fellow Wings star Henrik Zetterberg gets as many turns in the faceoff circle. But ask coaches around the league which veteran star they’d turn to in a crucial situation, and the crafty Russian’s name comes up often.
4. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver
Kesler was second in the league in faceoffs won last year, a feat all the more impressive when you consider he has two fellow faceoff dynamos (Manny Malhotra and Henrik Sedin) as teammates. He’s played five fewer games than those two players this year, but is only 20 faceoff wins behind Malhotra and 44 behind Sedin. Expect him to close the gap soon enough.
3. Manny Malhotra, Vancouver
Once an all-around top prospect, Malhotra has evolved into one of the NHL’s premier faceoff specialists. His faceoff win percentage last season was an incredible 61.7 percent and in the two seasons prior, he won 58 percent of his draws – just half a percentage below this season’s stat.
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
The Blackhawks captain led the NHL last season with 937 faceoffs won – that’s 78 more than Kesler had at No. 2, despite playing two fewer games than his Canucks rival. The season before, he was sixth overall despite missing six games. And this year, he’s tied for first with Spezza. Doesn’t get much better than that.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
The last time he played a full season (2009-10), Crosby won 1,001 faceoffs – 137 more than the NHL’s next-best faceoff man. Even more amazingly, he was on pace to beat that total last season, with 546 wins in just 41 games. And in his first game back Monday night, Crosby won 14 of 21 draws, good for a 66.7 win percentage. Forget about his absence, because he’s the best in numerous areas, including this one.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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