Elias Lindholm’s faceoff dominance is a key and underrated component of his value to the Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
4 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks added a lot of things to their lineup when they acquired Elias Lindholm from the Calgary Flames last week.
They added the top centre, the top forward, and probably the top rental available on the market.
They added their third player of definitive 1C quality, joining Elias Pettersson and JT Miller in that distinction.
They added a premier penalty killer, a lethal power play contributor, and an extra leader to what is already a strong and cohesive dressing room.
They added the player that the bulk of their potential playoff rivals were most interested in, too.
But if there’s one component of Lindholm’s game that hasn’t been talked about enough in the wake of the trade, it’s his faceoff ability. Or, to be more accurate and dynamic, perhaps we should say Lindholm’s “faceoff dominance.”
It’s both one of his leading traits, and one that the Canucks find themselves in particular need of.
First, the raw numbers.
Lindholm took 985 draws for the Flames prior to the trade, the third-highest total in the league to that point behind Sidney Crosby and Joel Eriksson Ek. He won 547 of them, third in the NHL behind Crosby and Vincent Trochek.
Lindholm’s win percentage of 55.5% sits at 25th place overall of those players who have taken 100 or more draws in 2023/24, and eighth overall amongst those who have taken more than 700.
Let’s not get to thinking that this is a recent trend, either. Lindholm’s career win percentage is a sparkling 53.3%. Over the past five seasons, Lindholm has won the eighth most faceoffs in the entire NHL.
Of perhaps more interest and importance are Lindholm’s situational faceoff stats. He wins 56.1% of his draws at even-strength, 60% on the power play, and 48.9% on the penalty kill (where opponents get to choose the side of the faceoff).
Lindholm wins 47.6% of his draws in the neutral zone, 57.8% in the defensive zone, and saves his best work for the offensive zone with a 58.1% rate. And it’s that last one that will prove most valuable to the Canucks in the long run, but more on that later.
First, let’s look at the Canucks themselves, prior to Lindholm’s arrival. Vancouver hit the All-Star Break with a perfect 50.0% winning percentage on the dot, which appropriately enough had them ranked right in the middle of the league at 16th overall.
That’s not bad. But it’s not good, either, and it’s a definite area of potential improvement – improvement that seems all but guaranteed with Lindholm now in the fold.
The situational percentages highlight the good that Lindholm can do. The Canucks are below even on even-strength faceoffs with 49.7%, something Lindholm can immediately improve on, and even their shorthanded rate of 43.9% trails Lindholm’s.
But it’s in the offensive zone that the difference Lindholm brings will be most apparent. There, the Canucks have won 51.1% of their faceoffs, a full seven percentage points behind Lindholm’s personal rate.
It’s important to note at this point, too, that there’s a lot of disparity in the contributions of Vancouver faceoff-takers.
Miller paces the group with 54.6%, and is very nearly Lindholm’s equal in that regard. In fact, their career win-rates of 53.3% are dead-even. But after that, there’s a decline.
Teddy Blueger clocks in next with 51.2%. Then comes Pius Suter with 49.5%. Next up is Elias Pettersson at 48.7% and Nils Åman at 47.6%, respectively.
None of those rates are poor by any stretch of the imagination. They range from above-average to slightly-below-average. But with a team as good as the Canucks are right now, it’s all about fine-tuning and finding those small areas in need of improvement. Faceoffs are one such area.
Let’s zoom in on Pettersson, specifically. He’s improved by leaps and bounds when it comes to taking faceoffs, but still struggles at times, particularly in the defensive zone. Thus far on 2023/24, he’s rocking a 42% rate in the d-zone, the worst of any regular faceoff-taker on the team.
Now, Pettersson is a player who received Selke Trophy votes last season, and should ostensibly be out there as often as possible when defending a late lead. But that 42% rate makes it a dicey endeavour to put him out there for any given defensive zone draw.
One of the potential line combinations that has been thrown around in the wake of the trade is to have Pettersson skate on Lindholm’s wing, much as he has for Miller on the Lotto Line already this season.
The Canucks could thus throw out Pettersson for a late defensive zone draw, but given him someone with a +16% better chance of winning that faceoff – and this player is also a recent Selke nominee, to boot.
But, as we said earlier, the o-zone could be where Lindholm really makes a demonstrable impact.
When one looks at the Canucks, they see a team that really should be a dominant possession team. Quinn Hughes alone has spent much of the season among the league-leaders in offensive zone time as a defender, and the Canucks are led up front by two centres in Pettersson and Miller who excel at maintaining possession of the puck, to say nothing of other possession-specialists like Conor Garland and Nils Höglander.
But by any convenient measure of possession, the Canucks aren’t doing so hot. Their Corsi of 49.99% ranks 19th among NHL teams. Their expected goals rate of 50.84% isn’t much better at 14th overall.
The NHL EDGE stat-tracking system has the Canucks’ even-strength offensive zone time at 41.9%, just barely ahead of the league average at 40.8%.
All this, from a team that is leading the league in both points and goals.
We here at CanucksArmy have definitely opined in the past that faceoffs might be an overrated aspect of the overarching game of hockey. But for a team like the Canucks, who just need to get their hands on the puck and can then proceed to hang onto it long enough to generate a scoring chance nine-times-out-of-ten, it stands to reason that faceoffs might just be a little bit more important.
Especially faceoffs in the offensive zone. Put Lindholm out there on the dot instead of Pettersson, and now a good 10-15% more pucks are making their way back to Hughes and Filip Hronek right off the bat. That’s got to be good for at least an extra goal every few games, no?
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t wrap up this up by noting that faceoffs are just one very small and specific component of what Lindholm brings to the table as a hockey player. We’ve already noted that he’s the 15th highest scorer among NHL centres over the previous five seasons, and the Selke nomination, and the versatility, and the surprising physicality.
It’s just that he can do all that and win most of his faceoffs. And that’s more great news for the Vancouver Canucks in what has already been a season chock-full of it.

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