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Predators have a very specific role for Paul Gaustad

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
Why are the Predators paying Paul Gaustad so much? To win faceoffs. Important ones. (Getty Images)

When the Nashville Predators gave up a first-round draft pick at last year's trade deadline, it was a little surprising. For one, it was for Paul Gaustad. He has never been a huge scoring threat or the type of player that you would anticipate fetching a top draft pick in a trade.

But even more than that was the fact that he was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It was a pretty decent risk for a franchise that doesn't typically take them.

The Predators managed to keep him. Perhaps even more surprising than giving up their top draft pick, they gave him a four-year, $13 million contract over the summer. That's a lot of money for a guy who averages about 10 goals and 30 points per season and isn't really a matchup or shutdown center.

But they have a plan for him and clearly put a premium on his best skill: winning faceoffs.

Throughout his career, Gaustad has been one of the NHL's best centers when it comes to winning faceoffs. And as a team that spends a lot of time in its own end of the ice, leading to more defensive-zone faceoffs than almost any other team in the league, having a guy who can consistently win faceoffs has even more value.

So the Predators use him almost exclusively for defensive zone faceoffs. There have been shifts this season where he has been on the ice for a defensive-zone draw and leave the ice as soon as the puck is safely out of the zone.

This started almost as soon as the Predators acquired him last year.

Paul Gaustad: Faceoff Usage With Nashville
SeasonOffensive Zone FaceoffsDefensive Zone FaceoffsDefensive Zone Percentage
201345192%
2011-123819284%
Totals4224385%

The Sabres used him in a similar manner, but it was never this one-sided (his d-zone percentages in Buffalo over the previous four years were always between 45 and 55 percent).

He really hasn't had a set series of linemates in his four games this season and has pretty much just been sent out by coach Barry Trotz whenever the Predators have a defensive-zone faceoff (and it happens a lot).

He's winning more than 50 percent of those 51 d-zone draws this season and is over 55 percent overall.

It's also worth pointing out that all four of those offensive-zone draws came in the same game. He has taken more than 11 faceoffs in his own end of the ice in three games. In the Predators' most recent game, a shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings, he took 17 faceoffs -- every one of them coming in the circles closest to his own net.

It's clear the Predators value him highly based on the assets and resources (draft pick and cap space) that they gave up to get and keep him. They have a very specific role in mind for him to take advantage of his best skill.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @Agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

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