As is tradition, with the Jackets’ season at an end, it’s time to look back at each of the rostered players and evaluate the value that player brought to the ice this season.
This year, we’ve decided to do something different. We’re utilizing Ryan Stimson’s “Playing Styles” as a starting point to look at each player. Based on 5v5 data analysis, Stimson identified four archetypes each for defensive and offensive players.
Two important things…first, don’t let the words he chooses for each style’s title be the only understanding of each type that you have, if you haven’t already read Ryan’s work, we highly recommend doing so. Second, look at each player’s shape as a measure against each axis. The total area doesn’t matter, rather, what matters is how strong they are (how much farther out in the wheel) on each measure.
For each side of the ice, we’ve also picked two players (one on each extreme of a good to not so good scale) to show as comparison for each Jackets player. For forwards, you’ll see each Jackets lined up against Sidney Crosby and Cody McLeod. And for defensemen, your comparison points are Mark Borowiecki and Victor Hedman.
It’s also important to note that these visuals are based on the past two season’s of data, and that this past season’s information is still incomplete.
Let’s get started!
PLAYER: Zach Werenski
ROLE: Defenseman (L)
2016-17 Regular Season: 78 GP, 11-36—47
2016-17 Playoffs: 3 GP, 1-0—1
PLAYING STYLE: Puck-Mover
As much as we caution about not letting the names of playing styles not be the only information you use to understand the style itself, there may be no better description of how Werenski plays than “puck-mover.”
Werenski is represented by the dark, trapezoidal shape in the graphic above. We can see even with an incomplete season’s worth of data, that he excelled at transition play and total shot contributions, and is among the best in the League in shot volume.
If you’ve watched any of Werenski’s play this season, this doesn’t surprise you.
Werenski delighted Columbus fans and management alike last season when he put up 14 points in 17 Calder Cup playoff games more or less straight out of his sophomore year at University of Michigan. And the 19-year-old didn’t waste time picking up right where he left off when he came to Columbus.
Head coach John Tortorella basically overhauled the way he wanted the Jackets defense to play based on the talents of primarily Werenski and his most frequent partner, Seth Jones. Overnight, Columbus became a team that rode the “engine” of their blue line. Quickly clearing the puck from their own zone, joining the rush and living the philosophy that offense is the best defense became the mantra of the Jackets D.
Werenski scored a goal in his very first NHL game and didn’t look back. He ended the season sixth overall among all Jackets in total points, and first overall among defensemen. Right out of the gate, he led the top power play unit and was seventh in primary points and tied for seventh overall for total points among all defensemen in the league playing with the man advantage.
He set a new franchise record for points scored by a Jackets’ rookie, and as of this writing, is one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy that is awarded to the outstanding rookie each season by the NHL.
Two unfortunate injuries marked Werenski’s final games. First, a shoulder injury sustained off a check into the boards kept the young defensemen out of the final regular season games. And a puck to the face in Game Three that resulted in multiple facial fractures ended Werenski’s season for good.
Can you say “almost everything?” Werenski’s talent was a definitive breath of fresh air for the Jackets’ defensive corps. His vision on the ice is sublime and he has the hockey abilities to allow him to act almost instantaneously on what he sees and processes. One of the most fun things to enjoy is how the rookie played with his head up almost 100% of the time, a skill many a coach will praise.
Nothing rankles this kid either. His ability to maintain a consistent level of play lining up against 29 other teams in the league, and some pretty big names in the process, makes the future look oh so bright.
In five-on-five play, Werenski was third among ALL Jackets players and first among all defensemen in Corsi For % (53.2%). He was second only to Seth Jones in 5v5 points per 60 (.9) and was the top defensemen in score adjusted Corsi against % (51.6).
By his own admission, Werenski definitely experienced the pain of adjusting to an 82-plus game schedule. Improving his stamia and ability to endure NHL seasons will be an important, but realistic goal for the Michigan native.
Werenski can also bring increased physicality to his game. At a muscular 6-foot-2, 214 lbs., he has the frame to withstand the hits a defenseman will take, but a wee bit more snarl in his responses will only make him that much more dangerous. This isn’t a player that needs to fight, (fun fact: he never has once in his hockey career!) but he need to continue to assert his dominance on ice.
To quote Tortorella “(We’re) glad he’s ours.” What a revelation Werenski is on and off the ice. Entering the second year of his entry-level contract, it’s not a big leap to expect nothing but progress from an elite defenseman who still can’t legally order a beer.