It hasn't been an easy ride for Zach Werenski.
He played most of the 2017-18 season with a significant shoulder injury, one that required surgery soon after the Blue Jackets were eliminated in six games by the Washington Capitals. This was after he scored 16 goals that season, a team record for defenseman that he shared with defense partner Seth Jones.
Last season was an up-and-down year for him but he revved up his game down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which helped the Blue Jackets to a shocking sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round. Werenski is an integral piece of the Blue Jackets' core, and despite not having a contract after July 1, there was no doubt in his mind that he'd be under contract before training camp began.
The Blue Jackets signed Werenski to a new three-year deal the week before camp, a contract worth $15 million and one that locks him into that core. No one, aside from Werenski, was more happy to see the agreement than head coach John Tortorella, who (as you know) loathes contract squabbles that linger into training camp.
What had Tortorella's attention this week? Werenski's conditioning. It was clear to the head coach that Werenski put in the work this summer, which was the first full offseason for Werenski and one free of rehabilitation from surgery or other ailments. According to Tortorella, Werenski made the most of it.
"He looks in great shape, oh yeah," Tortorella said Monday, almost with a twinkle in his eye.
We don't need to run down the summer-that-was for the Blue Jackets for it to be clear just how important Werenski is to their success. Now in his third season, Werenski is an all-situations player who adds a dynamic element from the back end, and that's not just in reference to his offensive production. For the Blue Jackets to win this season and win enough to get into the playoffs, they need him on form and doing what he does best: using his feet and vision to transition the puck, and becoming part of the "second wave" to create chances.
"I'm just so happy that things got straightened out (with the contract) and he wants to be part of it here," Tortorella said. "He's ready to get going. It's the best condition I've seen him since I've coached him."