Since entering the NHL, Zach Werenski has played the role of Robin to Seth Jones' Batman.
Now that Jones has moved on to Chicago, the team's defense corps is undoubtedly headlined by Werenski. It's not like he was under the radar in the past. In 2020, he became the first Blue Jackets defenseman ever to record 20 goals in a season. And since entering the NHL in 2016-17, the Blue Jackets have made the postseason every year except for last season.
In 2021, he was 14th in the NHL in TOI/GP, averaging 24:22 per season. Jones, naturally, skated 25:14, the fifth-highest average in the NHL. Now, with nearly 350 regular-season NHL games under his belt, Werenski is ready for the next challenge. Through nine games, Werenski has averaged skating 26:13, the fourth-highest average in the NHL, behind only Thomas Chabot, Brent Burns, and Alex Pietrangelo. It's a staggering number, but he's proven that he can handle an uptick in ice every year since entering the NHL.
He's getting it done at both ends of the rink. Per NaturalStatTrick, the team's save percentage at 5v5 while he's on the ice is .960%, easily the highest of his career. Is that sustainable? Perhaps not, but it indicates that Werenski isn't nearly the defensive burden he's made out to be by some in the national media. Offensively, he's tallied 2-4-6 while quarterbacking the club's top power-play.
One asset that makes Werenski so dangerous is his ability to join the play. I wondered, with Jones out of the picture, if Werenski would be more or less aggressive than he had been. On the one hand, he was now the guy. On the other, without the security of Jones, would he be less willing to lead or join the rush. As he showed in the below goal against the Dallas Stars, Werenski is still happy to be a key player in transition.
The Blue Jackets are off to a 6-3-0 start, and Werenski is a big part of their success. As such, we should continue to see the workhorse defenseman play big minutes for the foreseeable future.