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Wennberg finding his offense amid Blue Jackets' streak

White stick in tow, center recently finished a stretch of nine points in 10 games

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

In a Nike ad, Spike Lee once asked of Michael Jordan, "Is it the shoes?" 

Warrior might want to ask a similar question of Alexander Wennberg right now. 

Is it the stick? 

At the holidays, Wennberg didn't need much for Christmas, but he did ask his father Niclas to send over a shipment of white Warrior sticks that had been sitting in a garage in Sweden. 

So surely it had to be no coincidence that, shortly after the sticks arrived, Wennberg had a 10-game run where he had three goals and six assists for nine points, the most productive stretch of his career since his breakout 59-point season three years ago. 

Video: NJD@CBJ: Wennberg beats Blackwood on the rush

To Wennberg, well, yes it is. He pointed out that a year ago, he went to the World Championships, represented his home country of Sweden and tore it up while using a black stick. 

"I always like to have a white stick and do white tape," Wennberg explained. "If I do a black stick, I'll do black tape. Right now, I'm going to ride the wave (with the white stick), but I could change my mind in like two weeks. I don't know. 

"If you think about it, I played World Championships with a black stick and I felt like that was really good. To me it felt good, so there was no point of changing that. Then I had a little bit slower of a start this year, so I tried something else. That's what you have to do. Every game, if you can improve something or try something different, you might as well do it." 

OK, well if it isn't really the stick, Wennberg will want to bottle whatever he's found in the 14 games since the Christmas break and bring it back after the NHL All-Star break. Even in a game where Wennberg didn't get on a scoresheet like Wednesday night's win vs. Winnipeg, he played a solid defensive game while matched up against the Jets' top line of Mark Schiefele, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine and also had two prime scoring chances, including a rebound that Laurent Brossoit just got a piece of to kick wide.  

For the Blue Jackets to reach their potential, getting a solid two-way effort out of Wennberg will be an important part of that, and head coach John Tortorella sees someone playing very good hockey during Columbus' recent winning streak.  

"He's a guy that in the past few years has always been in the conversation with me and you and all that as far as wanting more," Tortorella said. "I think he's been pretty consistent here of late, very quietly gone about his business. The thing I look for with Wenny is him wanting to keep the puck. He has really concentrated on that this year. 

"I thought he started off really well. I thought he dipped -- I'm not sure what part of the season, what games they were, but I think he's really come on here of late as far as trying to hold on to pucks. I'm going to keep asking for more from him because I know it's there and he knows it's there, but I think he's been pretty consistent for us." 

The defensive part, especially on the penalty kill, has never waved from the 25-year-old center's game, but ever since that breakout year three seasons ago, there have been conversations about the state of Wennberg's offense. 

He went from a 13-46-59 line in 2016-17 to a combined 10 goals and 50 assists over the past two seasons. Injuries were a factor, and his 2017-18 output was solid but more affected by a lack of power-play production than anything else, but last year was undeniably a struggle. Wennberg finished with just two goals and 25 points and was a healthy scratch to begin the postseason. 

Tortorella admitted the time for conversations about shortcomings in Wennberg's offensive game were over, that it was up to Wennberg to produce. The two biggest flaws have been listed as a reticence to shoot - a label placed on him by fans and observers - and a lack of carrying the puck, which has been Tortorella's biggest concern. 

When Wennberg is strong on the puck, it not only allows the Blue Jackets to keep possession, it then opens up offensive abilities given his elite vision. It's an area the center knows he has to focus on.  

"Maybe (I've improved) a little bit, but personally I feel I could still be way better than I am right now," he said of holding on to the puck. "There's been some games it's been really good. You just have to go back to that. Sometimes it's easy to dump the puck and take the easy way, but for me personally you just have to keep holding on to it and making plays and that's how you make a difference in the game." 

As for the shooting more part, Wennberg knows that label has been on him since he debuted. He has been more aggressive with his shot this year, and with 63 shots on goal, he's just two away from his total of all of last season. 

"It's not that I don't want to shoot, but maybe sometimes I try to look for the next play or somebody who has a better opportunity," he said. "You see some goals are scored, it's not (even) like you're creating chances, it's just throwing the puck (into the crease). For me sometimes, I feel like personally it's hard to tell myself this is a great opportunity to shoot because you're always looking to somebody else, but it's something I try to work on and it's easier said than done. 

"I wish I had the solution for why I do it because obviously it's not the first time and it's probably not going to be the last time I've heard somebody say to shoot the puck more. But like I said, for me personally, I just have to do it." 

Wennberg said of his recent goals, he likely would have passed the puck in past seasons. At the same time, he feels there's an element of luck to his recent success on the score sheet. 

Whether it's luck, skill or just a batch of white sticks, Wennberg hopes to keep building as the Blue Jackets reach the second half.  

"I haven't changed much," he said. "It's small things. If you change a little bit, if a few things happen differently, you score a goal and have confidence. There's no secret to it, but obviously right now it feels good to be building on points. You just try to stay with it." 

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