In what is at this point mostly an annual tradition in the offseason, let’s take a look at how the New Jersey Devils did in the faceoff department this past season. The good news is that last year when I wrote this post, linked here if you want to see last year’s stats and compare growth, I was doing this post in May as the Devils were long out of it. Now, I am doing it in July thanks to a much more competitive team, which is awesome.
In recent times, we have been seeing the Devils, at least to a small degree, planning and strategizing faceoffs. This is mainly seen in 3 on 3 overtime, where Michael McLeod is brought out for an important draw and then immediately heads to the bench for another skater. Possession is of tantamount importance in that 3 on 3, so having your best faceoff man out there at the start to gain that initial possession, over time, will lead to more goals and wins, so this is a smart move.
Overall, however, this team has three real positive, quality faceoff men and then a bunch of guys who are well below par in this realm. However, the team knows it, and while the top two faceoff guys were both free agents this offseason, both were brought back, so expect more of the same next season. Info in the charts below comes from Natural Stat Trick, and I am only including those who took at least 100 draws during the regular season. First chart is from the regular season, second is from the playoffs.
So as you can see, and as I mentioned above, if Nico Hischier, Erik Haula, or Michael McLeod are not taking the faceoff, there is a solid 2/1 odds that the Devils will lose any faceoff that they take. Those are poor numbers to say the least. But of course, Jack Hughes is really the only one outside of those top three that takes a decent amount of draws. If he could get close to 50% even on the dot moving forward it would do wonders for the Devils and possession, as just given the amount of ice time he gets, he will be out there for enough draws he has to take when others get thrown off of the dot. Or, if he is playing with like Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt or whatever, then there is no one else, so his line will be behind on possession often.
But the good news is that the top three are very good. Let’s start with the best. Michael McLeod is not only the best faceoff man on the Devils, but he is a top 3 faceoff man in the entire NHL. Here are the top 3 NHL forwards last year in faceoffs:
That is very impressive from McLeod right there. The other two are veterans and staple players who have been top 6 guys for basically their entire careers. McLeod is struggling to remain on the fourth line and can’t secure a long term roster position despite being a first round draft pick, but he’s up there with those two in the faceoff circle. That is not a small matter. I’m sure Tom Fitzgerald considered that before offering him a contract this offseason.
While McLeod is right up there with the best in the league, both Haula and Hischier are no joke either on draws. Haula pulling over 54% on over 1000 faceoffs is really good stuff, and Hischier was not far behind him despite taking part in over 1600 faceoffs. Those were what the Devils needed. If you are keeping McLeod on the fourth line, a logical choice given his level of play outside of the faceoff circle, then you need solid faceoff guys on the better lines to gain possession early and drive play up the ice, or to keep the puck in the offensive zone and get some solid attempts on net. And both Hischier and Haula were able to do that at quality rates last year. Hischier has been a real solid faceoff guy for the Devils for years now. He was really poor at it when he came into the league, much like Jack Hughes is now, but quickly worked on it, made it a strength, and now he is consistently great at it. Haula coming over here and being able to handle the draws for another top 9 line was a huge boon as well, giving the Devils another guys who could tilt possession in NJ’s favor. Overall, it helped lead the Devils to a strong year in possession with a 54.12 CF%, ranked fourth in the league at 5 on 5. Now, obviously not all of that is from faceoffs, that is only a tiny bit of possession, but it definitely plays a part over 82 games.
In the end, faceoffs last year, overall, were a boon for the Devils. Having a top 3 faceoff man in the NHL is a massive plus, but given that he is a fourth line center, they needed more and got it from both Hischier and Haula. Having three very good guys to take draws really opens things up for the Devils and gives them possession of the puck more often than not, and over the course of a full season, that leads to more attempts for, fewer attempts against, and hopefully more goals and wins. Lindy Ruff has options when a faceoff is coming up, and can throw out any of three lines, one with Hischier, one with Haula, or the fourth line with McLeod, and know that the odds are good that they will come away with the puck right away. And in the 3 on 3 overtime, you can throw McLeod out there for that all important initial possession to give the team first licks at a quality attempt and a win. It’s just another weapon in this team’s arsenal, an arsenal that has greatly improved over the last year and should continue to grow next year.