I think Jannik Hansen wins puck battles, but I don't know if I can prove it.
Tuesday morning on the Team 1040, Scotty Rintoul and Ray Ferraro held their regular weekly interview with Mike Gillis. These interviews tend to range in their entertainment value, depending on whether Gillis feels like needling Scotty for the inanity of his questions or not, but there was one particularly interesting moment. Because Gillis attended the Moose/Heat game on Saturday, he was asked about what he looks for in a young prospect in terms of bringing them up to the NHL. He didn't hesitate to answer1: "the one most telling test is their puck-strength and their ability to win puck battles...that's what really separates guys from the American League and the NHL." He talked about strength in protecting the puck and winning puck battles as being the number one thing he looks for on the ice. Not skating, not shooting, not defensive positioning, not stickhandling - puck-strength.
I was intrigued by this, as puck-strength is one of those qualities of a player that seems to defy quantification: there are no statistics that track how strong a player is on a puck, yet it is one of the foundational abilities that leads to success at the NHL level. It's also one of the most easily discernible differences between a rookie and a veteran in the NHL: rookies tend to be knocked off the puck easily and lose puck battles along the boards, while veterans do not. They've got old-man strength. I'd like to look at the one particular area of puck-strength that Mike Gillis mentioned: winning puck battles.