Even the most diehard Minnesota Wild fans would have a hard time picking center Luke Johnson out of a lineup. He doesn’t have the flashiest game and his 5-foot-11 frame is easy to overlook when he’s on the ice.
But you can’t miss the 26-year-old when he steps into the faceoff circle. In fact, since moving to the middle of the ice last week, Johnson has won 58% of his faceoffs. He’s an impressive 25 for 43 in that span.
That’s a significant number considering the Wild have won just 46% of faceoffs as a team this season. That performance leaves them ahead of only the New York Rangers in the NHL.
Asked specifically about Johnson, coach Dean Evason lauded his compete level in the faceoff circle.
“He’s been real good in that area,” Evason said. “It’s not a secret that our group as a whole has not been. His faceoffs have been very strong. It starts there.”
Though it’s a smaller sample size for Johnson than the other centers on the team, the only other player with a faceoff percentage above 50% is veteran Nick Bonino. He has won 52% of his draws this season, serving as the faceoff specialist most nights.
Needless to say, Bonino has enjoyed having Johnson on the ice to take some of the pressure off him.
“He’s been great for us,” Bonino said. “He’s got a really calm demeanor. He’s not too high and not too low. He’s been pretty smooth in the dot. He’s obviously taken faceoffs for years now, and he came in and did what he’s done in the past that’s made him successful.”
Looking at the other centers on the roster, Joel Eriksson Ek has a 46% success rate, Victor Rask has a 45% success rate, Ryan Hartman a 42% success rate.
While the Wild have struggled as a team in that area, it hasn’t helped their cause that the officials seemed to be kicking players out of the faceoff circle at a higher rate this season. Even worse, there doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason when it comes to players getting kicked out.
“It drives me crazy,” Evason said. “Honestly, I don’t understand the thought process there. You’ve got two centermen and that’s their job. It’s their job to win a faceoff. Not the wingers. It’s their skill set and they want to compete. As long as the guys are lined up and their feet are square, let’s throw it down there and let’s have a battle and see who wins. I don’t like how many times guys are getting thrown out.”
Luckily for the Wild, it doesn’t appear to affect Johnson too much in the faceoff circle. He just continues to go about his business.
“It’s been seamless with all the people we’ve been able to use and had to use in different situations, and Johnie’s been no different,” Evason said. “His work ethic and his grit have been real good. He’s a real good player.”
Zach Parise is expected to return to the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. He was placed on the COVID list on March 24 and hasn’t placed since.