Happy Birthday Zach Werenski: One of the NHL's Best-Ever Teenage Defensemen Turns 20

By Jeff Svoboda on July 19, 2017 at 12:32 pm
Zach Werenski turns 20 today.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Happy birthday, Zach Werenski! And unlike most players, we can't even use the cheers emoji with this one.

Werenski turns 20 today, meaning the potential face of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise – one which appears to be healing nicely after bearing the brunt of a flying puck during last year's Stanley Cup playoffs – is no longer one of the best teenage defensemen in NHL history but a rapidly maturing NHL star.

If goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is the team's rock, Werenski is a gem, and the numbers back it up.

As a first-year player at the age of 19 last year, the University of Michigan product scored 11 goals, added 36 assists, was on a puck-hogging pairing with fellow talented youngster Seth Jones, and also carried himself like a grizzled veteran.

The production stands out, of course. Werenski became just the 12th teenage blueliner in NHL history to top 40 points, and five of those – Larry Murphy, Phil Housley, Ray Bourque, Bobby Orr and Scott Niedermayer – have ended up in the Hall of Fame. 

What's more, Werenski did it with a certain on-ice casual swagger that made him perhaps the most exciting young player in the NHL. His playoff goal against the Penguins was so dirty, sneaking into the perfect spot in the top corner, that they couldn't even find the puck afterward. How cool was that?

Or how about what became a bit of a specialty last year, the sharp-angle shot in key situations.

Werenski also earned praise throughout the season and even after from both his teammates and head coach John Tortorella, who praised the youngster not just for his play but for how he carried himself.

"I'm glad he's ours," Tortorella said. "I've watched some stuff with some young kids of late, just how young kids act in the league, and with our guy here, he gets it right away, what it is to be a young player in the league, what it is to respect the league, what it is to respect your teammates. He is so far along.

"This guy is a Columbus Blue Jacket. We are so fortunate. Forget about what he does on the ice. It's how he handles himself. I think that's so important. We talk about standard, we talk about culture, we talk about what we want to be. He has stepped right into it and he's on a fast track."

And of course, no mention of Werenski's rookie season would be complete without bringing up the scary eye injury in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series vs. Pittsburgh when Phil Kessel's shot rode up Werenski's stick and hit the defenseman in the face, dropping him to the ice as blood poured from a cut.

Werenski, of course, returned to the ice in that game until his eye was swollen shut, earning him praise and love from the Columbus crowd. Later, his black-eyed selfie went viral and even ended up on a shirt

All in all, it was one magical year for the 19-year-old. Can 20 be even better? There's no reason why not.