How the Canucks have managed to stay just as good at faceoffs in the post-Horvat era

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
When the Vancouver Canucks made the difficult decision to trade captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders earlier this season, they hoped that, in time, his contributions to the team could be replaced via committee.
But they also had to know that certain things Horvat brought to the table would be downright irreplaceable.
Pin-point lasers from the bumper spot on the power play. That outside-in toe-drag dangle. The ability to play consistently no matter who was on his wings.
And faceoffs. Definitely faceoffs.
More-or-less since he arrived in Vancouver as a teenager, Horvat had been relied on extremely heavily in the faceoff circle. By his sophomore season, he was leading the team in draws taken and won. Not too long after that, he was regularly challenging Patrice Bergeron for the titles of busiest and most effective faceoff-taker in the entire NHL.
That continued all the way through Horvat’s eventual departure from the team. So, it stood to reason that the Canucks were due for a bit of a dip in this statistical category in the wake of his exit.
Except, that’s not what’s happened at all. Below, we took a look at how the Canucks have maintained their faceoff rates in the post-Horvat era, and give credit where credit is due to the players making that happen.

Team Faceoff Success with Horvat

Before the trade, Horvat had taken the second-most faceoffs in the league (behind Bergeron, as usual) and carried the 19th-highest winning percentage among regular centers. But all that individual success didn’t really contribute to the Canucks being all that successful as a team on the draw.
The Canucks lingered a smidgen below breaking even, and ranked around the top of the lower-third of the league in overall faceoff percentage. They were better off in some situations, like the power play, where Horvat took the bulk of the draws and the Canucks ranked third-best in the league.
It’s also probably fair to say that their lack of faceoff success shorthanded contributed at least a little bit to their overall penalty killing woes.
So, it’s worth noting that, when we say that the Canucks have been just as successful at faceoffs post-Horvat was they were with him, that’s still not exceptionally successful. But that doesn’t change anything about the fact that most would have predicted an immediate drop in these numbers after the trade, and that said drop has not occurred.

Team Faceoff Success Post-Horvat

The Canucks’ post-Horvat faceoff stats constitute a smaller sample size than their stats with Horvat, but it’s still a considerable one. The Canucks played a little more than half a season with Horvat on the roster, and have completed a little less than a third of a season without him.
That should be enough time to reach some reasonable conclusions, but the only real conclusion worth reaching here is “steady as she goes.”
Go ahead and flip back and forth between the two tables above a couple of times. Nothing is ever truly identical when it comes to statistics, but they’re pretty darn similar, are they not?
The Canucks’ overall faceoff success rate has dropped by a scant 0.1% since Horvat left. At the same time, the Canucks have risen one spot up the NHL ranks, so we’ll call it a wash.
Every other situational faceoff stat is within 1.5% of where it was with Horvat in the mix. The one exception, oddly enough, is shorthanded, where the Canucks have been one of the worst faceoff teams in the league post-Horvat. That’s a little strange, because at the same time the Canucks’ PK has improved by leaps and bounds, and all those shorthanded goals seem to suggest that they’re getting their hands on the puck eventually, anyway.
Power play faceoffs have been clipping along at almost exactly the same rate, now that JT Miller is taking the majority of them.
But for more on individual contributions, we turn to our next section.

Individual Faceoff Records with Horvat

 GamesFaceoffs Taken% of Team FaceoffsOverall Faceoff %EV %PP %PK %OZ %NZ %DZ %
When we say that Horvat was Mr. Faceoff for the Vancouver Canucks, its no exaggeration. Prior to his trade, Horvat took four out of every ten Vancouver faceoffs, and won the majority of them, posting a positive record in every category except for shorthanded.
Elias Pettersson was the next-most-frequent faceoff taker, but his results were a decided step down from Horvat’s, save for on the power play, where Pettersson only took three total draws.
The real thing to note here is that Miller spent much of the first half of the 2022/23 season on the wing, and thus did not take many faceoffs at all. To wit, Sheldon Dries only took six fewer faceoffs than Miller in 19 fewer games. Miller’s results when he did take draws were generally positive; a step below Horvat’s and a step above Pettersson’s. Don’t let that low, low percentage on the power play fool you: Miller usually only took PP draws after Horvat had been kicked out of the circle, which meant he had to play it safe.
The bottom-six returned middling results from the middle. Dries was the best of the bunch, Curtis Lazar did fine enough, and Nils Aman struggled mightily.
But, for the most part, it was the Horvat Show, through and through.
Until, of course, the Horvat Show moved to Long Island.

Individual Faceoff Records Post-Horvat

 GamesFaceoffs Taken% of Team FaceoffsOverall Faceoff %EV %PP %PK %OZ %NZ %DZ %
What’s happened since the Horvat trade, in the simplest terms, is that Miller has singlehandedly taken over Horvat’s faceoff-taking role, and has thrived.
Miller is taking almost as many draws as Horvat was pre-trade, now back at center full-time. He’s winning the exact same percentage of them. And that holds true in all situations. Go ahead and do that back-and-forth flip thing between these two charts. Horvat and Miller’s results are spookily similar.
Note that, now that he’s the primary draw-taker on power plays and not the backup option, Miller’s percentage has soared up to 64.2%. He’s actually winning more frequently than Horvat did at even-strength, in the offensive zone, and in the neutral zone. The penalty kill faceoff numbers remain a bugbear, but again, Miller is getting his hands on that shorthanded puck one way or another anyway, so what’s the harm?
Pettersson has remained steady as the #2. He’s taking a few more draws than he did before, and winning a handful more of them, but his numbers are mostly the same. This will be an area of potential improvement for him this summer. At the very least, his defensive zone faceoff results have improved dramatically, and that’s probably an indication of him taking on some of Horvat’s two-way duties.
Aman has been asked to take faceoffs at about double the rate now that he’s the de facto 3C. His numbers have improved, but they’ve still got a long way to go if this is going to be a regular gig for him.
Dries remains consistently near that 50% threshold. Jack Studnicka has got a few more turns at center than he did before, but continues to post middling results on the dot.
Lazar went on a faceoff-winning tear following the Horvat trade, taking and winning a whole bunch of draws, only to be traded himself six games later. Maybe that run helped convince the New Jersey Devils that he was the 4C they needed.
The most curious thing to note here is the presence of one Brock Boeser. Since Horvat departed, Boeser has taken an average of about one faceoff per game, and he’s won 64% of them. Does this mean that Boeser might have missed his calling as a center? Probably not, and it’s almost certainly a statistical anomaly. But if Boeser can continue to take and win draws for the second power play unit, that might be a particularly useful role to carve out for himself moving forward.
So, everyone has stepped up at least a little bit in the absence of Horvat to ensure that the Canucks’ overall faceoff numbers have not suffered any sort of drop. But the bulk of the credit has to go to Miller, who has virtually and seamlessly replaced what were once thought to be Horvat’s irreplaceable contributions on the dot.
Maybe it really was a question of opportunity all along, and maybe Miller really does have a long-term future as a center for the Canucks. The faceoff numbers aren’t the only thing that have shot up since Miller moved back to the middle, after all.
They’re just the most obvious.

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