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Vermette addition should help Hawks in circle

CHICAGO -- Andrew Shaw thoroughly enjoyed every time the puck dropped between Jonathan Toews and Antoine Vermette during a recent Chicago Blackhawks morning skate.

Shaw was openly cheering for Vermette and talking trash to Toews. Before Vermette’s recent arrival, Shaw was the one often going up against Toews in practice and often ending up on the losing side. Shaw was finally glad to see Toews meet his match.

“I was hearing guys getting excited a little bit,” Vermette said. “I didn’t know specifically he was one of them. I am not surprised. For the little I know of Shawzy, he seems to be an outgoing guy.”

Vermette’s trade-deadline acquisition has the potential to help the Blackhawks in a variety ways, and that includes gaining more puck possession by winning more faceoffs. In Vermette and Toews, the Blackhawks now have two of the league’s top 10 players in faceoff winning percentage.

“It’s huge,” Toews said of Vermette’s faceoff ability. “I think he helps our wings. For our guys like [Patrick Sharp] and [Brandon] Saad, they’re going to be getting the puck. He has a lot of speed and a lot of ability. With [Brad Richards], [Marcus Kruger], Antoine and myself, it gives us so much depth and makes us so much stronger top to bottom.”

The Blackhawks have been one of the league’s better faceoff teams for much of the season. They currently rank seventh in the league with a 51.7 faceoff winning percentage.

Toews has a played large role in the Blackhawks’ winning rate. He’s eighth in the league at 56 percent, winning 752 of 1,344 faceoffs. Kruger has a 54.5 percentage (279-of-512) and is followed by Shaw at 49.9 percent (282-of-568) and Richards at 48.7 percent (320-of-657). Shaw is having a career season, and Richards’ percentage is down from recent years.

Vermette didn’t have a memorable debut for the Blackhawks, winning just five of 17 faceoffs Sunday, but he’s traditionally been near the top of the league. He’s won 779 of 1,398 faceoffs for a 55.7 percentage this season. He’s 10th in the NHL in percentage.

Toews attested to Vermette’s faceoffs skill. He’s someone Toews has had mixed results against over the years.

“I told him he’s one of the guys I struggle against,” Toews said. “He’s got a different technique and different form, I guess. He’s strong with the stick. You can’t beat him easy on faceoffs.”

Vermette was honored to hear that and threw back the praise at Toews.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Vermette said. “Johnny’s a real good player, obviously. He’s successful at the draws as well. It’s fun. You get up close to see what the guys are doing. Certainly, he’s a world-class player in different areas, not just offensively, but he’s strong both ways, strong guy, starts with the faceoff.”

As simple as it sounds, Vermette explained winning faceoffs is the first objective for any team, and the Blackhawks could have a leg up there.

“Straight forward, you start with the puck or you start chasing it,” Vermette said. “This is a big advantage when you have guys like you have on this team, the skill set that we have and puck-possession-wise and abilities and stuff. I think it’s certainly a big advantage for you if you start with it.

“Technically, if you lose the faceoff, by the time you get full possession of the puck, you waste some energy and some quality time that could be pushing the opposition in their end instead of turning everything around. It’s an important factor in the game, no doubt about that.”