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Digging into the nomination: Zach Werenski

Analyzing Werenski's Calder Memorial Trophy nod

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL / BlueJackets.com

When you look at Zach Werenski's performance in his first year in the NHL, there's no surprise that he's one of three finalists for the NHL's Calder Memorial Trophy awarded to the league's most outstanding rookie.

"47 points for Zach Werenski in his rookie year," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "You can look down in history at the list of names that come up when you compare those numbers, especially the way he played as a rookie, it's not easy to find those guys."

In 78 games, Werenski notched 11 goals and 36 assists, (11-36-47) and had 12 multi-point outings. That stat line led all Jackets defensemen in assists, points and multi-point games. It also was good enough to set a new franchise record for points and assists earned by a rookie and marked the second-most points scored by a defenseman in Blue Jackets history.

A 3-7-10 performance in the month of November earned Werenski NHL Rookie of the Month honors, and his point total marked the sixth-most points by a rookie teenage defenseman in NHL history.

WERENSKI'S RECORD-BREAKING SEASON

According to NHL.com, among all rookies, Werenski ended the season ranked seventh in scoring; third in assists; third in five-on-five Corsi-for percentage (53.33) and third in relative Corsi-for (5.0). He was first among all rookie defensemen in those same categories.

Among all NHL defensemen, Werenski was 13th in scoring, 14th in assists, 14th in points per game and tenth in relative Corsi-for.

"What can you not say about the guy?" Seth Jones said. "He's been unbelievable for our team. He's been such a huge part of our success this year. The way Zach plays, the team plays. If Zach comes out aggressive and he's buzzing, he makes me want to go and makes everyone else want to go."

Werenski's contributions were significant in both even-strength play and on special teams. From the start of the season, the Jackets coaching staff handed Werenski the keys to the number one power play unit. Head coach John Tortorella said it was "sink or swim" for the 19-year-old.

Werenski responded by not just showing the ability to run special teams and play with the "patience of it," he earned the fourth highest power play point total among Jackets players (4-17-21). He also ranked ninth overall among all NHL defensemen in power play points.

"He doesn't say it, but he has an inner confidence in himself that he can make these plays," Tortorella said. "(Look at) his skill level, how he sees the game, his lack of panic.

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm3: Werenski goes top shelf for PPG

"The thing I love about him the most is he'll make a mistake but he'll come right back and try to make that same play the next shift. He doesn't worry about it for two periods or two games. He'll go right back at that next play."

The other two finalists for the Calder Trophy bring distinguished resumes of their own.

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

After being picked first overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Matthews drew notice in the NHL from the moment he stepped on the ice for his first game: a four-goal outing for the 19-year-old from Arizona. The young centerman didn't miss a game in the regular season and scored 40 goals and 29 assists, putting him just four goals behind the league's leading goal-scorer, Sidney Crosby.  

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

Laine, the second overall draft pick in 2016, was an offensive powerhouse for the Jets. He finished his season with a 36-28-64 stat line, good enough for seventh overall in goal scoring and second in rookie goal scoring, falling behind only Matthews. The Finnish winger played 73 games this year and led all NHL rookies who played in more than one game in points per game (.88).

Comparing the finalists.

There is no question that Matthews, Laine, and Werenski each were invaluable players for their respective teams. But looking at the three side by side highlights the accomplishments of the lone defenseman in the bunch.

According to datarink.com, Werenski certainly kept pace with his fellow nominees. In five-on-five situations, Werenski had the most minutes per game (16.4) and the best shot suppression a score adjusted corsi-against per 60 minutes of play (51.6). One would expect this kind of result from a defensive player.

But the Blue Jacket also had the highest score adjusted Corsi-for percentage of the finalists (53.7). This means Werenski didn't just lead the pack in preventing opponents' shots, he was integral in driving offense for his own team.

Werenski has proven to be deserving of a Calder Trophy nod, but perhaps more exciting is what the Michigan native represents for the Jackets' future.

"The nomination is exciting for him," Nick Foligno said. "As a young kid, just what he did for our organization, it's amazing what he did for our back end. He came in as such a young guy and put some calmness back there, took some pressure off (the other defensemen). To see Zach get recognized for that is great for him and for our organization."

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