Zach Werenski is on the verge of posting his best offensive season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The 24-year old has posted 11-36-47 in just 64 games this year, identically matching his final season statistics from his rookie season in 2016-17 in which he played 78 games.
Werenski came into the 2021-22 season needing to prove that he wasn't just Seth Jones' defense partner, but a legitimate top-pairing defenseman who could stand independently. He's done that and then done some.
While other defensemen on the roster are perhaps ill-suited in their current role, Werenski is very much playing like the No. 1 defenseman they expect him to be. Next year marks year one of his six-year, $57.5M contract.
We projected Werenski's next contract (via extension) at $7.55M x 6 years. Quite the payday for the 24 year old.— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) July 30, 2021
Werenski has been a consistently great offensive defenseman during his career per our xGAR model. We project him as the 13the best D heading into next season. https://t.co/2cpCnqDkk8 pic.twitter.com/y2Eq3hD2sq
While there were many skeptics of the weighty deal, Werenski has proven to be extremely valuable for the young Blue Jackets. He's logged 26:04, fourth-most in the NHL behind Brent Burns, Jones, and Thomas Chabot, and while he still isn't perfect defensively, he's clearly in the upper echelon of defenseman in the NHL.
Werenski nabbed three assists while playing in his hometown on Saturday night.
Defenseman Zach Werenski collected assists on 3 of #CBJs goals tonight and has now tied his single-season career highs in assists and points with 11-36-47 in 64 games in 2021-22. Also posted same stat line in 78 contests in rookie campaign in 2016-17.— CBJ Public Relations (@BlueJacketsPR) April 10, 2022
On the first goal of the game, Werenski angled Detroit Red Wings' captain (and good friend of Werenski's) Dylan Larkin to perfection, forcing an ill-advised pass that Jack Roslovic intercepted. Seconds later, the puck was in the back of the net.
With the Red Wings leading 2-1, Werenski found Cole Sillinger wide-open in the most dangerous part of the ice with a perfect backhand pass. Sillinger made no mistake and tied the game at 2-2.
On the OT game-winner, Werenski carried the puck up ice, slipping a pass on a 2-on-1 to Roslovic. After the initial chance was thwarted, Gus Nyquist collected Roslovic's backhand pass and gave it right back, ending the game and giving Roslovic the hat-trick.
This season hasn't been great for the Blue Jackets, who will miss the playoffs. But it was another step in the right direction for the team's best defenseman, who will continue to be a key part of the organization for the foreseeable future.