Blue Jackets Defensemen Are Contributing On The Scoreboard In A Major Way

By Dan Dukart on November 15, 2018 at 3:05 pm
Ryan Murray rips a shot against the Washington Capitals in the second period at Capital One Arena.

Geoff Burke – USA TODAY Sports

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Defense = offense.

Through 18 regular season games, the Columbus Blue Jackets are getting scoring contributions from some familiar faces.

Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, and Pierre-Luc Dubois are all either warming up or clicking at a high level, Nick Foligno has started the year well, and Anthony Duclair is outpacing offensive expectations.

But perhaps the most significant contributions to the Blue Jackets' offensive production has come from their defense, where four (four!) of their defensemen are in the top-35 of all NHL defensemen in points. The only other team that has four of the top 50 among the league's leaders in points? The Nashville Predators, who have a consensus top-two defense corps in the league. Not bad company. 

Now, let's start with a disclaimer: Points, even for forwards, can be somewhat overstated.

Thomas Vanek puts up points everywhere he goes, but isn't exactly the most sought-after player in the league. Patrice Bergeron hasn't scored 70-plus points in more than a decade, but his importance to the Bruins cannot be overemphasized. Similarly, defensemen who put up points can certainly benefit a franchise, though it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of their contributions to a team.

But the Blue Jackets, who are tied ninth in the NHL in goals for (58) and goals per game (3.22), wouldn't be sitting nearly as pretty if it weren't for the contributions from their back-end.

Zach Werenski, whose overall play has been questioned at times this season, leads the team's defensemen and is tied for 16th among NHL defensemen with 11 points. The goal below shows the offensive instincts of Werenski and also Markus Nutivaara, who set up the whole play.

Meanwhile, Nutivaara, Seth Jones, and Ryan Murray all sit tied at 25th in the NHL with nine points apiece.

Perhaps most interesting is that Werenski and Jones, who both previously set and now sit tied for the franchise lead with 16 goals in one season, have just three and two goals each (so far). So while they're contributing offensively, there's even more room to grow to reach last year's goal totals. 

John Tortorella refers to his defense as the team's "engine." He encourages his defensemen to not just involve themselves in the offense, but to drive it. Werenski and Nutivaara are often leading the rush up-ice, and Jones is certainly no stranger to leading the rush or carrying the puck, either.

Considering that 213 defensemen in the NHL have at least one point so far in 2018-19, it's quite impressive that four Blue Jackets crack the top 100, much less the top 35. And for a team that scores by committee, it will be crucial for the defensemen to continue to be a driving force.

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