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A Promising Young Playmaker

by Alison Lukan / Columbus Blue Jackets

“Playmaker.”

It’s a word that is being associated with Alexander Wennberg more and more, and the 21-year-old centerman is living up to the moniker.

“He’s great to play with,” Scott Hartnell, who has played the majority of his minutes as a Blue Jacket with Wennberg, told BlueJackets.com. “He’s very good defensively, always in the right positions. When he has the puck it just seems like the game slows down for all of us out there.

“He is always making the right play and spinning out of trouble offensively and he gets some space from the defenders. He can make some plays and that’s hard to find (in a player).”

But what specifically does being a playmaker mean? It’s not just points - it’s about helping other players get points as well.

Before a goal can be scored, a shot must be taken or attempted. And to get that shot off, it takes getting the puck on a player’s stick – and that usually happens with a pass.

Recently, an effort in the hockey community led by Ryan Stimson has started to track primary, secondary, and tertiary passes that lead to shot attempts.

Within the games that have been tracked so far, 12 Blue Jackets games in the months of October through December have been covered and the results are interesting.

While an admittedly small sample size, it presents a new way to look at which players play a role in getting the puck up the ice and helping to create a shot attempt. For the Blue Jackets, Wennberg is leading the way.

Let’s look at these pass attempts per 60 minutes. Looking at these numbers in terms of a “rate” can best show a game-to-game performance that can be expected from a player.

Even though Wennberg is eighth among all forwards in even strength time on ice per game at 12:47 according NHL.com, he’s leading the way in shot assists per game for Columbus at 12.50.

Shot attempts are one thing. Shot attempts that become goals are another. And Wennberg is living up to expectations there as well.

Wennberg has been the most frequent linemate for both Hartnell (18-19-37) and Brandon Saad (21-16-37) who are tied for the Blue Jackets' scoring lead.

Further, when it comes to primary assists (in all situations), Wennberg’s 13 primary helpers are second this season only to Brandon Dubinsky. For passes that lead to goals, Wennberg is actively making the passes that lead to pucks in the net for the Blue Jackets.

In 47 games as of Feb. 22, Wennberg is seventh on the team in total points (22) with six goals and 16 assists. He’s upped his even strength (score adjusted) points per 60 pace to 1.3 this year from 0.9 last year and he’s on a 25-assist pace that would blow away last year’s assist total of 16.

And while Wennberg is already increasing his role in helping his teammates produce points, head coach John Tortorella says the next step in his development is getting more goals of his own on the board.

“Wenny is our playmaker right now,” Tortorella said. “He’s still a young kid in the process of being trusted in the number one center role. He’s a willing kid. (Right now) he’s on the outside, making plays. (Playmakers) want to make the plays from out there, but we’re showing him that he needs to be on the inside too, scoring some rebound goals, some deflections.”

There’s a good chance Wennberg can rise to that next challenge. Hartnell says he’s watched Wennberg over the past two seasons become a player who is full of confidence and growing creativity.

“Consistently (Wennberg) is aware of where the other team is and where me and Saader are going to be,” Hartnell said. “He’s doing a good job at distributing the puck. He’s proven he’s going to be a big-time center for us.”

Visuals courtesy of Sean Tierney. All data courtesy of war-on-ice.com unless otherwise noted.

Games included in the passing project for CBJ: 10-09 (NYR), 10-10 (NYR), 10-14 (OTT), 10-16 (TOR), 10-17 (CHI), 10-27 (NJD), 10-30 (WSH), 11-03 (SJS), 11-10 (VAN), 11-25 (NJD), 12-26 (TBL), 12-29 (DAL)

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