Faceoffs in the National Hockey League may not be THE most important stat among centers, however more and more teams are paying attention to how important they are. Fans, players and executives alike know that faceoff wins lead to puck possession and the more a team possesses the puck, well the more likely they are to score goals. It’s not a difficult formula to follow, and it’s why every trade deadline, there’s always at least a player or two who gets moved to a contender simply for their ability to win draws. Points may be the premium, but faceoffs help to pay said premium.
The New Jersey Devils may have only played
15 14 games so far this season, but that’s enough of a sample size to begin analyzing how the team has performed in the dot. I will preface by saying some of the things we already know: the results are a mixed bag, and there are some player who we can’t judge just yet. So now let’s dive in and see if the team has a problem or not.
The Good: Michael McLeod and Nico Hischier
Ideally, any NHL team wants their centers winning above 50% of their draws taken in any given game. Sure, guys will have off nights, or get matched up repeatedly against a guy who has their number, but as a general, overall number, above 50% is the goal. Thankfully for the Devils to this point in the season, they have at least two players they can rely on for this: Nico Hischier and Michael McLeod.
McLeod in particular has been phenomenal this season, winning 59.9% of his draws to this point while taking them regularly. Heck, he’s even been taking them beyond regularly, being sent out to win a draw when his line isn’t on the ice, and then immediately changing off. While I think every Devils fan (myself included) would like to see McLeod contribute more on the offensive side, his faceoff ability alone is guaranteeing his roster spot right now, particularly as others struggle, which we will discuss in a moment. I also want to give credit where it is due to Hischier; after a slow start this season, he has picked up his production while continuing to be strong in the circle for the Devils. While his 54.8% success rate isn’t near McLeod’s, it’s still very, very strong, especially once we look at the drop-off from there.
The Bad: Pretty Much Everyone Else
While the Devils only have two other regular centers, almost anyone else who has taken a draw has not had anywhere close to that success this season. If we set a minimum of 30 faceoffs taken from the team’s faceoff statistics and percentages (sorry Tyce Thompson, we’re not going to count the one faceoff you took and won), everyone else who has taken at least that many has a win percentage of 44% or lower! That’s over 10% worse than Nico’s draw rate.
While the Devils have spent some time juggling centers on their third/fourth line (wherever McLeod hasn’t been), none of those players used in that role have done well. Also concerning is that Dawson Mercer, who is being featured prominently in a Top 6 role (and rightfully so) is winning less than 40% of his draws. While he and his entire line have been doing a great job of producing, he does not to continue working on his faceoff acumen. His line mates have taken a few draws as well (mostly when Mercer has been tossed from the dot), but have not found any sustained success either.
Also in the “bad” section is the fact that the Devils are missing Jack Hughes; although his faceoff percentage throughout four periods of play was nothing to write home about, it was again just over a game’s worth of draws. Hughes could come back and wind up being much better at faceoffs than he was in those two games, and that could help to shore up the issues that the Devils are seeing; having three centers winning above 50% of their draws is really all that you can ask for in this league.
So Do the Devils Have a Problem?
A lot of fans seem to think the Devils have been awful at draws and it is costing the team points. While they have had some stinkers of games in terms of draws, overall they have two centers performing well, one rookie doing not so well, and an injured star who might be improved on draws. Trotting McLeod and Hischier out for every draw may not be a sustainable strategy, but for now it is a legitimate one and it has been working. While I do think the Devils need to try a few more moves to make sure that they are maintaining control of the puck and the game, I’m inclined at this point to say the team does not have a problem...but I’m open to discussion about it!
Do you believe the Devils have a problem with faceoffs, or do you believe they are doing alright on the strength of Hischier and McLeod? Do you think the return of Hughes will be a boost? Do you think Dawson Mercer needs to spend some extra time training with Travis Zajac for faceoffs? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!