Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is having a season for the ages, easily leading the NHL rookie crop of blueliners in points and in historical company when it comes to production from teenage defenders.
Here's his case for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given annually to the NHL's top rookie.
Just 19 years old, Werenski has gone about rewriting the Blue Jackets’ record book this season with 11 goals and 36 assists for 47 points thus far. Despite playing on the blue line, he has the franchise rookie records for assists (beating out Jakub Voracek’s 29 from 2008-09) and points (Rick Nash, 39, 2002-03), and he’s within reach of James Wisniewski’s club record for points by a defenseman (51, 2013-14) and Bryan Berard’s record for goals by a blue liner (12, 2005-06).
When it comes to NHL history, Werenski is making some as well. His 47 points, fifth among all rookies in the league and 12 clear of the next defenseman (Brady Skjei, New York Rangers), is also sixth all-time by a teenage defenseman in his rookie season, putting him in the same company as such notable names as Larry Murphy, Phil Housley and Ray Bourque.
Werenski has 12 multi-point games this year including a three-point game Feb. 19 vs. Nashville. He was also named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month in November when he had three goals and seven assists in 13 games. Werenski has been no slouch defensively as well, as his CF% mark at 5-on-5 is 53.22 percent, and his offensive and defensive point shares number are equal at 4.6 apiece. That defensive number ties him for 19th in the NHL with teammate Jack Johnson.
Making his Case
The reality is the Blue Jackets wouldn’t be the Blue Jackets this season without Werenski. The 19-year-old – it still seems odd to say that – has been a key part of the remaking of the Columbus blue line along with Seth Jones and, to a lesser extent, Markus Nutivaara. Now a top pair that is able to go forward with verve while still defending in its own zone, the Werenski-Jones pairing pushed the rest of the Jackets’ D-men down the lineup, shoring up the unit. Werenski’s impact – both as a passer and someone with a unique ability to thread shots on net through traffic – has been historic for someone so young. Simply put, he’s a cornerstone, franchise player.
Two rookies are tied for fourth in the league in goal-scoring, numbers that have turned heads across the league. And it’s no surprise the pair was chosen one-two in the NHL draft last season, as Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine each have 34 tallies on the season, tied with St. Louis star Vladimir Tarasenko behind Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov and Brad Marchand at the top of the NHL goal-scoring chart. Matthews and Laine also have matching totals of 27 assists to give each 61 points. Toronto forwards William Nylander and Mitchell Marner also have 57 points apiece.
Should He Win It?
As detailed above, Werenski is certain good enough to come away with the trophy. What he’s done not just as a scoring threat and power-play quarterback but as a defenseman is arguably more difficult than the forward roles played by Matthews and Laine, though at least Matthews plays center, a spot with plenty of defensive responsibilities. You can’t go wrong with any of the three choices.
Will He Win It?
The reality is no. In many years, he’d be the front runner, but it seems likely he’ll finish third behind Matthews and Laine. It’s going to be nearly impossible to beat out Matthews, who not only has been one of the top scorers in the NHL but has helped resuscitate one of the league’s marquee franchises in Toronto, not to mention the league’s most important media market. Matthews has the pedigree, being this past season’s No. 1 overall pick, and numbers to back up his choice.
Recent Calder Trophy Winners
|2006-07||EVGENI MALKIN||PITTSBURGH PENGUINS||LW||20|
|2007-08||PATRICK KANE||CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS||C||19|
|2008-09||STEVE MASON||COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS||G||21|
|2009-10||TYLER MYERS||BUFFALO SABRES||D||20|
|2010-11||JEFF SKINNER||CAROLINA HURRICANES||C||18|
|2011-12||GABRIEL LANDESKOG||COLORADO AVALANCHE||LW||19|
|2012-13||JONATHAN HUBERDEAU||FLORIDA PANTHERS||LW||19|
|2013-14||NATHAN MACKINNON||COLORADO AVALANCHE||C||18|
|2014-15||AARON EKBLAD||FLORIDA PANTHERS||D||19|
|2015-16||ARTEMI PANARIN||CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS||LW||24|