Over the past few seasons, the Rangers have been relatively atrocious on face offs, but have always shown improvement. This year, all that improvement is coming to fruition. Through 25 games this season, the Rangers are in the top-ten (8th) in face off percentage, winning 51.4% of their draws. They are well behind the top four teams (Boston – 57%, Minnesota – 53.3%, San Jose – 53.2%, Phoenix – 53.1%), but a few strong games in the circle can move them all the way to fifth (Pittsburgh – 52.0%).
How much of an improvement is this? Just last season, the Rangers were 18th in the league in face offs, winning a little less than 50% of their draws. It’s worth noting that NHL.com rounds up, as the Rangers are noted to be at 50% on the site, but in reality were 2286-2291 on draws. In 2010-2011, the Rangers were 25th in the league in the circle, winning just 47.7% of their draws. In two years, the Rangers raised their success rate by 4%. That’s roughly 300 more face off wins per year, or 4 extra wins per game.
Much of the improvements this year have to do with Brian Boyle and Jeff Halpern, who lead the team in face off percentage (57.6%, 56.7% respectively). J.T. Miller –in a small sample size– has won 53.8% of his draws, but has taken just 78 total draws in his time. For comparison’s sake, Boyle (250) and Halpern (150) have tripled and doubled his totals. Brad Richards (49.8% success rate on 422 draws) and Derek Stepan (48.9% success rate on 460 draws) round out the center success rate.
The biggest improvement here is with Stepan, who is taking 31.7% of the team’s draws this year, and has improved greatly in the circle. Last season, he took just 18.9% of draws, and won just 44.5% of them. The season before, he took 15.6% of the team’s draws, and won an embarrassing 38.5% of them. In just two seasons, Stepan raised his success rate by 10% in the circle (about 500 more wins per season, or 6 per game). That’s just impressive and shows how hard the kid has worked on a big flaw in his game.
Another big improvement was made by Brian Boyle. His 57.6% rate this year is a massive improvement on what was already a good rate last year (51.8%). That 6% jump is quite impressive, but it will actually not affect his total numbers, since he is taking far fewer draws this year (19.8% of team draws this year compared to 26.5% of draws last year). That’s not a knock on Boyle, it’s a show of trust in Stepan.
The addition of Halpern has also shown to be a shrewd addition, especially when the Rangers traded Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky had a 51.9% success rate for face offs, and Halpern has won 5% more than Dubi. It’s tough to replace Dubi, but Halpern has blown him away at face offs.
Face offs were an area where the Rangers needed to improve to be a true contender. Face off wins lead to puck possession, which helps the club break out of the zone (defensive zone draws), create offensive opportunities (offensive zone draws), or give time to set up a breakout (neutral zone draws). This is an aspect of their game that has flown under the radar, but is a very important piece of future success.