Zach Werenski's rookie year will continually put him in a spotlight of criticism.
Not because his rookie season was so bad, but rather how good it was. Each of his two seasons since then has not surpassed that year in a lot of statistical categories.
His 47 points that year is still a career-high for him, along with his tallies that year in assists, +/- rating, penalty minutes, power play goals, defensive point shares, offensive point shares, power play points, giveaways...you get the point.
While his production on paper may be down, Werenski was dealing with a shoulder injury almost the entire 2017-2018 season, and barely finished rehabbing it ahead of this past season. Having a full offseason to train while being injury-free will be nice for the almost 22-year-old.
While most of Werenski's numbers this past season didn't surpass his monstrous rookie season or high-scoring second season, he still was amongst the top of the league in defenseman production. His goals, assists, and points were all top-25 in the NHL at his position, and his above .50 points-per-game doing was good to be amongst about 30 other defensemen.
Defensively, Werenski struggled at the beginning of the season, as it seemed he was trying to get his offensive flow back from his non-injured playing days. With the Blue Jackets finding more scorers on one team than they ever had previously, though, it became clear that Werenski's offensive roll was not needed as much.
Head Coach John Tortorella made a point for Werenski to focus on his defense over the course of the season, and slowly but surely, he progressed. He tallied a career-high in hits and takeaways and was a staple for the Blue Jacket blue line late in the season and into the playoffs when the defensive core of the club was heavily banged up.
Werenski seemed to come back into his "old" self just around Christmastime, putting up 28 points in his final 48 games, with nearly 24 minutes of ice time per game to his name. In the playoffs, his six points in ten games were good for fifth on the club.
His goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2, by the way...not too shabby (neither was his Gordie Howe hat trick).
Highlight of the Campaign
Werenski is a restricted free agent this summer and could be highly coveted by a number of teams who would easily put him in their top-pairing of defensemen. Werenski is one of the more productive defensemen in franchise history, and at his age, is in elite company statistically:
|ERIK KARLSSON||OTTAWA SENATORS||.69||2009||2012|
|DREW DOUGHTY||LOS ANGELES KINGS||.63||2009||2011|
|ZACH WERENSKI||COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS||.54||2016||2019|
|CHARLIE McAVOY||BOSTON BRUINS||.51||2017||2019|
|TYLER MYERS||BUFFALO SABRES||.50||2009||2012|
Werenski and his usual partner in Seth Jones have the opportunity to band together and lead one of the best, if not the best, defensive unit Columbus has ever seen this coming fall.
If Werenski can continue to tighten up his play in the defensive zone and grow even a little more in his offensive production, his name could sneak into the Norris Trophy conversation in a few years.
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