What More Can The Blue Jackets Do To Fix Alexander Wennberg?

By Dan Dukart on January 31, 2019 at 10:15 am
Alexander Wennberg looks to win a faceoff against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationwide Arena.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets need more from Alexander Wennberg.

Through 49 games this season, the 24-year old Swede has tallied just one goal. While he's never been a goal scorer in the NHL, this level of futility is nearly unmatched - forget among his teammates, but in the league

In Tuesday night's 5-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, John Tortorella finally had seen enough. 

Wennberg was a ghost, playing just two shifts in the third period. He was on the ice when the Sabres scored the go-ahead goal, and played just one more shift after that. The Athletic's Aaron Portzline noted that he didn't play at all in the final 8:23 of the game.

Think about that. Down a goal late in the game, Tortorella knew - KNEW - that Wennberg wouldn't be able to provide the offensive spark needed to even the score at five.

Wennberg's ice time has been limited all season. His 15:30 average TOI is the lowest of his five-year career (he played 15:04 vs. Buffalo). Despite that, he's not been a healthy scratch this season, something that Tortorella has been asked about point blank in recent days. 

"If he was a dog, yeah. He's not a dog. He isn't. He brings other things, but there is offense there. He's a 60-point guy, two years removed, and we've got to try to help him."

Those other things Tortorella brings up are his defensive acumen and penalty killing skills. But the Blue Jackets need more from their former first-round pick. Said Tortorella: “I won’t name the players, but I’m having a hell of a time reaching some guys”.

Martin St. Louis, who was brought in as a power play consultant, surely knows that Wennberg is his key target.  

Blue Jackets fans surely remember Tom Wilson's hit on Wennberg in last season's playoffs. Is it fair to say that Wennberg hasn't been the same since that hit? 

Personally, it feels like the below hit was the last time I can remember seeing Wennberg being a consistently dangerous and assertive player. This was late in the 2016-17 season, the year in which the center posted a career high 13-46-59.

In the 115 regular season games since the end of that season, Wennberg has 9-45-54. Consider this: Wennberg's 34 career goals are just six more than Cam Atkinson has... this season. 

WAR (Wins Over Replacement), a popular metric in baseball, is finally making its way to the NHL. In a nutshell, WAR is a one-stop shop statistic. How many wins (or, gasp, losses) are you individually responsible for? Per corsica.hockey, Wennberg's 2018-19 -0.03 score is 11th on the team among forwards and means that he's essentially a replacement level NHL player. Atkinson (1.39), Artemi Panarin (1.31), and Pierre-Luc Dubois (0.75) lead all Blue Jackets forwards, for comparison's sake.

It's been said one million times, but once more: Wennberg needs to shoot the puck more. At 5v5 this season, he's taken just 38 shots. I understand the "pass first mentality", but are you even a threat to the other team if they know that you're not even thinking about shooting? His 38 shots are fewer than fourth liners Markus Hannikainen (41) and Riley Nash (43), and his shooting percentage on those 38 shots is 0.0% - his only goal came shorthanded

Long gone are the days of hoping that Wennberg can challenge Dubois for the top line center role on this team. Dubois has run away with that title, much to the chagrin of Tortorella, and the Blue Jackets desperately need Wennberg to rediscover his game. 

One option the Blue Jackets could employ would be to move Wennberg off the center position to the wing, where the game is simpler and more-straight forward. But Wennberg's defensive skills are appealing down the middle, and the club lacks the depth at center ice as currently constructed to feel great about that experiment. Still, the status quo is not working, and hasn't for some time. 

It's understandable why Tortorella hasn't scratched Wennberg - he's a reliable defensive centerman who can play in all situations. However, Tortorella has all but admitted that he's been unable to get through to Wennberg, specifically, and if St. Louis is unable to spark him, a scratch may be the last bullet in Tortorella's holster. 

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