Zach Werenski doesn’t have the pedigree of fellow first-year stars such as Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but judging by his play for the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets, it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets a lot of Calder Trophy love.
Columbus is one of the NHL’s most vibrant teams. This is due to a young nucleus of talent that includes players such as Brandon Saad, Seth Jones, and Boone Jenner. But perhaps nobody has been as good as Werenski, who’s transforming into the team’s best offensive defenseman in only his first NHL season.
When Columbus drafted Ryan Murray second overall during the 2012 NHL Draft, many thought he’d be what Werenski is now, one of the best first-year blue line scorers in all of the league. However, Murray has yet to showcase that talent. Whether it be due to injury or inconsistent play, it has left a sour taste in the mouths of Blue Jackets fans.
Knowing they needed to find a gifted two-way defenseman, Columbus drafted Werenski with the eighth pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Slated to attend the University of Michigan for his freshman season, Columbus took a chance that he’d be ready to help the team contribute sooner rather than later.
At the end of his collegiate career, Werenski joined the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate in Cleveland, helping them capture the coveted Calder Cup. He was simply marvelous for the Lake Erie Monsters, recording 14 points over the course of the postseason. His play garnered him a long look for the Blue Jackets opening night roster, and coach John Tortorella knew very quickly that he wasn’t going to let him spend another year in the minors.
Only eight games into his professional career, Werenski has already scored at a point per game pace. He’s second amongst all NHL rookies with six assists, and his eight overall points place him in the top-five of all rookie scoring. He’s without question the best rookie defenceman at this early point of the season.
Werenski has already earned the trust of Tortorella, who plays the 19-year-old more than 20 minutes per game. He’s also paired up with fellow standout defensive product Seth Jones, who the team traded for last season in an attempt to add more young firepower to its blue line unit, and is currently a fixture on the Jackets first power play unit.
It’s obvious that Werenski won’t keep up a point per game pace, but like Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere proved last season, 45 points is a good starting point to make your case for a Calder Trophy. And while it’s unclear if Werenski can touch the gaudy point total, he’s still one of the NHL’s best young stars and deserves a lot of recognition.
Follow Daniel James Gentile on Twitter @dgentleman9288