Minnesota Wild: An encouraging trend in the faceoff circle

Joel Eriksson Ek is among the Minnesota Wild centers who have been more of a force on faceoffs so far this season.(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Joel Eriksson Ek is among the Minnesota Wild centers who have been more of a force on faceoffs so far this season.(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

Winning faceoffs has been an area of weakness for the Minnesota Wild since the departures of Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal over a year ago. Last season, this deficiency didn’t keep the Wild from being a winning team but it was an area that needed to be improved.

Now,  just  11  games into this season, there are some very encouraging signs being shown from a few key players in the faceoff circle.

So, let’s take a look at the Wild’s primary centermen and how their numbers have changed from last season to this season:

›Joel Eriksson Ek:
2020-21: 47.1%
2021-22: 49.8%

Faceoffs were really the only weak link in Eriksson Ek’s game coming into this season and he has improved on those numbers so far this season. He takes more draws than anyone on the team and also often takes the toughest draws against other team’s best players.

Faceoffs play a large role in the arsenals of the NHL’s best two-way center. Take for example:

Boston’s Patrice Bergeron
Career FO%: 57.5%

St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly
Career FO%: 55.8%

Los Angeles’ Phillip Danault
Career FO%: 53.3%

In addition, Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman, who has played the wing for most of his NHL career, has seen major improvements thus far.

›Ryan Hartman:
2020-21: 41.5%
2021-22: 50.0%

Due to his lack of experience as a center, it might be awhile until he can do this consistently, but he has improved by almost 10% over last year’s mark. If he can maintain a percentage in the high 40s while doing everything else the coaching staff wants out of a center, his value to the team is that much higher.

The Wild’s  biggest surprise, without a doubt, has been Nico Sturm. Although he is playing more sheltered minutes as a bottom-six forward, the numbers are just simply impressive.

›Nico Sturm:
2020-21: 51.5%
2021-22: 65.9%

After putting up a solid 51.5% mark last season, Strum is currently winning faceoffs at a 65.9% clip. Is it sustainable? No. However, it is a really good sign to see this progress considering Sturm is in just his 2nd full NHL season.

In addition, newcomer Frederick Gaudreau has put up decent numbers of his own. He has come through in the most important situations, winning 57.1% of draws taken short-handed and 54.3% of draws taken in the defensive zone, according to NHL.com.

Put all this together and the Wild have made big strides in the faceoff circle. Albeit just eleven games into the season, the Wild have improved their faceoff win rate by 3.7% as a team from last season to this season.

2020-21: 46.5%

2021-22: 50.2%

The hardest part will be to sustain this newfound success. Either we will see a regression to the mean, or come to the conclusion that the Wild really have made lasting improvements in this area.

Only time will tell.