This most recent NHL draft brought some new faces that are already becoming household names. A glorious premiere night in Toronto for Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s goal machine Patrik Laine are showing us that the 2016 newcomers are here to make a name for themselves in the big league. Going down the list, we can see the first round brought us some less discussed contributors that have been making a huge difference for their teams. Notably on defense, I want to dive into what Zach Werenski has been doing in Columbus.
Werenski has lent a huge hand in the team’s astounding turnaround from finishing in last place in the Metropolitan division last season, to closely battling among the top teams in this season’s hottest division. Currently, they sit in third place just above the New York Rangers and just under the championship defending Pittsburgh Penguins. There are a lot of factors to consider for this, most important of all is the addition of head coach John Tortorella. From there the organization has made some solid roster changes. Selected number 8 overall by the Blue Jackets, Werenski is an important piece of a larger puzzle that is giving this team unexpected success. After we look at his play, we will dive into some numbers.
Describing Werenski’s play can be achieved in one word: smooth. His skating ability and vision of the play make his positioning and control seem nearly effortless. The stride he has and his speed make any breakaway transition from the defensive zone to the attack a true threat to any team. Not to mention his shot can be compared to any current sniper forwards in the league (a good example here as he picks the corner to tie the game versus Washington). Defensively, this kid has the stuff. The head stays up at all times, play is always watched, and rarely does an attacker enter the zone with the puck cleanly. In some tense situations his eyes will sometimes magnetize to the puck which allows opportunities, but better focus comes with experience in this league.
I am thinking this stat may have come out of necessity after last season, but Werenski is certainly not lacking in ice time. With defensive partner Seth Jones leading the pack at 23:39 average time per game, Zach sits in the group averaging around 21:20 per game, consisting of himself, Johnson, and Savard. Combined, Werenski and Jones have 71 points so far in the season. Werenski has 37 points, most of which has been accomplished on the Columbus power play unit that dominated early on in the season. I would not be surprised if he finishes the regular season hitting the 50 point mark.
Even if Columbus does not make it far in the upcoming playoffs, they have certainly laid a solid foundation for upcoming seasons. A solid mix of young talent with well seasoned vets is a winning combination and it looks like that strategy is slowly coming together. Werenski is part of the hope that the Blue Jackets have for the future as the organization continues to strengthen its pool of young talent.
Cover photo from Sports Illustrated