"He's improving, in all aspects of his game defensively."
Head Coach John Tortorella knows Zach Werenski has always been known as an offensive-minded defensemen in his nearly three seasons as a Columbus Blue Jacket, and in totality, his defensive-play has always been solid as well.
But at the start of this season, Werenski's play in his own zone was suffering - coughing up pucks and causing turnovers, getting beat in one-on-one battles in the corner, you name it. He didn't look like the same all-star that Columbus had seen before.
After offseason shoulder-surgery, this should have been somewhat expected though. What seemed like endless months of rehab for Werenski finally ended as he suited up for the final preseason games and then opening night, and most thought that the young defenseman should be his old self again.
Which, isn't incredibly fair.
But now, Werenski is really showing the league that he hasn't lost any of himself as a player, and just in time as the playoffs start to creep around the corner in a few months.
Tortorella took notice of his defender's slower start to the season, and Werenski's ice time suffered because of it, getting nudged to the second pairing rather than being up on the top pair with all-star teammate Seth Jones.
But now, Tortorella is seeing growth.
"The thing with him is to make sure while he's improving defensively, that he doesn't lose his offensive instincts and offensive aggressiveness," said Tortorella on Friday afternoon.
The numbers tell a similar story. Werenski started out the first half of the season, all the way to the new year, with relatively average defensive numbers compared to the rest of the defenders on his club.
Werenski was 16th in takeaways on the team and 4th in blocked shots. Since the first day of January, Werenski has jumped to being tied for 4th in takeaways and third in blocked shots. He has also bumped his CF% to second amongst club defensemen (for those who have played more than 15 games), only behind Jones.
"He's improving, in all aspects of his game defensively," said Tortorella.
Werenski is on pace for a 44-point season, which would only be three behind his career high of 47 from his rookie season. This really puts in perspective how even when Werenski is going through a little bit of a slump, he's still one of the top young defensemen in the league.
Follow 1st Ohio Battery