NHL Network recently came out with one of their off-season pieces on the top 20 at each position in the league, with this one being the top 20 defenseman. Two things should have stood out to Columbus Blue Jacket fans: the inclusion of Zach Werenski at 13 and the exclusion of his first pairing partner Seth Jones.
It is hard to argue against that Werenski exudes a calmness and composure of a seasoned veteran, and his ability is evident, especially on the powerplay. And while the ranking of Werenski might be a tad bit premature, there is every reason to believe that Werenski and Co. are the future of hockey in The Buckeye State.
The Future of Hockey in The Buckeye State: Zach Werenski
While Werenski being ranked 13th may be a bit premature, this comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched the young defenseman. There are multiple arguments that can be made for Werenski being among the top 20 in the league, and we will explore them here.
Werenski showed his ability on the man advantage last year with 21 points. This was second only to Alex Wennberg, and tied with Cam Atkinson and captain Nick Foligno. Of those 21 points 17 of them were assists, showcasing his ability to find seams and create when given the opportunity.
What’s even more impressive is that his 21 points ranked ninth in the NHL among defenseman. For a then 19-year-old to do that is truly impressive. Another point in his favor is that he led all rookie defenseman in powerplay points and goals, showcasing even more his effectiveness in the Blue Jackets system.
Defensive contributions is a vague heading. This could be categorized as anything from shot blocking to scoring chances, and many other things. To truly understand the importance of Werenski, we need to understand the effect he had on the Blue Jackets last season.
First off, when Werenski was on the ice, Columbus had 54.21% of the shots taken, the highest of any Blue Jackets defenseman. He also had the highest percentage of scoring chances for of any Columbus defenseman, with a SCF% of a 52.56.
While these do not definitively state his effectiveness, they do point to it being a promising trend. It’s hard to argue that when your team has well over half of the shots and scoring chances for when you’re on the ice that you’re not doing your job very well.
Other Reasons to Believe this is Sustainable
Aside from his effectiveness on the man advantage and the fact that Columbus performed significantly better with him on the ice, there are other reasons to believe that Werenski can sustain this level of play.
Of those reasons is his defensive partner and how well they play together, Seth Jones. Jones, while underrated by many, is a solid defensive defenseman with the ability to produce in the attacking zone as well. While he is only 22-years-old, he is well beyond his years in playing ability.
Having a defensive partner like Jones beside him is one of many reasons this could be a sustainable level of play for Werenski. The following chart will show you just how effective Werenski and Jones were together for the Blue Jackets last season.
Another argument in his favor is that current head coach John Tortorella is well-known for his “build from the back” philosophy. He established this in his first season when he traded star centerman Ryan Johansen for the aforementioned Jones.
Under the tutelage of an old school, hard-nosed coach like Tortorella, Werenski has and will continue to learn discipline in every zone. This is an invaluable trait that will add in the future success of both Werenski and hockey in The Buckeye State.
The last reason, and one far more concrete than the former two is the PDO that Werenski had last season. Werenski had a PDO of 1.011 last season, which was higher than only two defenseman who played 41 or or more games for Columbus, Ryan Murray (1.007) and Jones (0.994).
For those of you who do not know, PDO is derived from adding on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage. The reason this is being used is solely for the fact that it also points to the fact that this season is a sustainable one for Werenski.
As stated by Rob Vollman in Stat Shot, the mean of the NHL PDO for individual players is 1.000, with outliers above 1.030 and below 0.970 generally regressing towards the mean. This bodes well for the case of Werenski, seeing as his 1.011 is not outside of that mean, generally pointing toward the fact that it is very well a sustainable level of play for the young defenseman.
The Future of Hockey in The Buckeye State
While it may have been a tough pill to swallow at first for some fans to cheer for someone from The University of Michigan, or the state of Michigan for that matter, any minor complaints have quickly dissipated.
Werenski has won over the hearts of the Fifth Line faithful, and rightly so. His play, very arguably at a sustainable rate, breaking the Columbus Blue Jackets rookie scoring record, his potency on the man advantage, and his calm demeanor have won him favor among the Blue Jackets fan base.
All of this leads one to believe that not only is this sustainable, but there is room to grow. One thing can be said for certain, Zach Werenski is the future of hockey in The Buckeye State.