What do hockey teams crave?
Right handed defensemen? A good backup goaltender? A cheap scoring forward? All of those things are desired but we always hear about a big bodied centerman. A centerman to win faceoffs and kill penalties.
With teams selecting smaller players with higher levels of skill, is the big bodied centerman still a necessity? Does it still matter to have size in the faceoff dot, or just someone purely good at faceoffs, big or small?
I looked at data from the 2015-16 season across four different leagues; the NHL, KHL, OHL, and QMJHL. Across all four leagues there were 538 players to take a minimum of 200 faceoffs each. How does the NHL’s top faceoff men stand up to the rest of the world? Jonathan Toews, Ryan Kesler and Byron Froese were the top faceoff men. Yes, you heard correct. Byron Froese was the 3rd best player in the faceoff dot to take at least 200 faceoffs last season. All 3 ranked in the top 95 percentile, with Toews and Kesler ranking the 96th percentile across all four leagues. Casey Wellman from the KHL was the best faceoff man at 63.7% and the worst was Viktor Drugov, also from the KHL, who posted a 30.7% in the faceoff circle. Neither of which were any marvel in size on either spectrum, Wellman stands at 6’ 0” and weighs 173 lbs and Drugov standing at 6’ 0” and weighs in at 179 lbs.
What I found out was a shock, there was very little correlation between weight and faceoff percentage and next to no correlation when comparing height and faceoff percentage. Why is this? Why does size not matter? Skill is becoming more important than size in all aspects of hockey. In scoring ability, defensive coverage and, as it appears, with faceoffs.
This is not too justify overlooking a player just because they are big, which has become the case when searching for a skilled player. But it appears as though a big bodied centerman isn’t the dream we all thought it was when picking someone to take the defensive zone draw that has the entire game on the line.