Scoring goals wins hockey games, and that's what makes goal scorers draw notice night after night.
Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg may have gained a share of that spotlight when, on Sunday afternoon, he scored his first game-winning goal of the season with just 53.6 seconds left in D.C. However, Wennberg's consistently improving play on and off the scoresheet has been a signal of how the centerman is stepping up for the Blue Jackets, even beyond the goal count.
"He has taken a step in he right direction," head coach John Tortorella told BlueJackets.com. "You have to take the first step before you can take the next step, and it's a big change from last year."
Wennberg's teammates see the growth in the young center who was challenged by Tortorella to concentrate on becoming the best player he can be.
"(Wennberg) is so slippery and good with the puck," said Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray. "He's starting to play the way his instincts tell him to. Sometimes that's reading off pucks; sometimes on the forecheck, he's reading where the play's going and picking up the puck and creating a scoring chance.
"It's little things like that - I think he's playing the way he knows how."
Video: Torts on the development of Alexander Wennberg's game
We know Wennberg is second in total points for the Blue Jackets (3-14-17), putting him in a tie for first overall in the league in assists. But with three goals and just seven of those points (two goals, five assists) at even strength play, is there a way to measure the 22-year-old's impact and development outside of points alone?
Hockey Graphs author Dominik Luszczyszyn (also of The Hockey News) has developed a measure called "game score" that provides "a standardized method for measuring single game productivity."
A player's game score is determined from a set of weighted factors that come from each game. These variables include goals, primary assists, secondary assists, shots on goal, blocked shots, penalty differential, faceoffs, 5-on-5 shot attempts differential, and 5-on-5 goal differential.
Below, we see a rolling 15-game average of Wennberg's game score. Calendar date is the x-axis, starting last season; the game score value is the y-axis, and higher is better. Tracking from left to right, going from last November through today, we can see that Wennberg's in-game productivity has improved.
It is important to note the relatively small number of games we can include from this season (16); however, Wennberg has remained with Brandon Saad as his most common linemate from last year, and the pair are now joined by Nick Foligno, creating a unique mix of talent.
"We can all shoot the puck and we can all score," Saad said. "With moving the puck and passing, we don't have just one goal scorer and one passer. We're all just producing in different ways."
Game score helps us see that contribution.
Wennberg also ranks third among all Blue Jackets forwards in average game score this year (.82) - that performance is an improvement over last season's average (.55).
This can only bode well for Wennberg. As Luszczyszyn explained in his game score introduction at Hockey-Graphs.com, "if Game Score measures the quality of a game played, it stands to reason that the best players will play higher quality games more often, meaning over a full season the best average Game Score should belong to the best players."
And becoming one of the best players for the Blue Jackets, maintaining this pace of development, is the challenge that lies ahead for Wennberg.
"He's an important guy for us," Tortorella said. "As young as our team is, he's one of our most skilled players, and a skilled center. It's a big year for him to take more responsibility in his play, away from the puck and with the puck, and he's started off very well."
All data from Corsica.hockey unless otherwise stated. Graphs by Alison Lukan.