When Zach Werenski showed up at Nationwide Arena this week, he looked just like his normal 19-year-old self and that's definitely a welcome sight. Only a scar across his right cheek hints at the injury that ended the rookie's season during Game Three of the Blue Jackets' first-round playoff series earlier this year.
In the second period of that game, Werenski took a puck to the face that fractured his orbital bone and sinus cavity and cut through his skin necessitating 18 total stitches to close the wound.
Now, almost eight weeks removed from his injury, a rested and healed Werenski has been cleared by doctors and is beginning his preparations for next season.
"I'm feeling really good," Werenski said. "I got cleared two weeks ago and started training again, so I've been skating and working out."
Werenski's injury didn't require surgery, just rest and recovery time, something that the Grosse Point native ended up welcoming.
Werenski had an abbreviated off-season last summer after being part of the Calder Cup Champion Lake Erie Monsters team. When he joined the Jackets' roster right out of training camp, he embarked on an 81-game stretch, the most games Werenski has played in a season in his hockey career.
"I sat around four to five weeks (after being injured)," Werenski said. "That was a little bit different but that's what the trainers were telling me, 'just take more time off this year, you played a lot of games.' So it worked out well that I had a reason to sit home and do nothing."
Even with the time away from training and hockey, Werenski's recovery tracked perfectly against the six-week projected recovery time. The defenseman feels he's right where he wants to be as far as getting ready for the 2017-18 season.
ZACH WERENSKI'S RECORD-SETTING ROOKIE YEAR
"I've started doing my workout program," Werenski said. "I was itching to get back at it, so I had to get out on the ice too and work on some things. I've hopped out there quite a bit just working on some skills, shooting, doing some stick handling. Nothing too crazy."
Werenski is still letting his body rest up a bit, and he'll have a chance to take in some relaxation and celebratory activities when he heads to Las Vegas next week as one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy that is awarded to the League's most outstanding rookie player.
Even if he doesn't come away with a trophy to mark his first season in the NHL, Werenski already has one reminder of this past year in that scar that sits below his right eye.
"The scar is a lot better than what it was," Werenski said. "Moving forward, it will only get better so that's a good thing. I could have gone without it, but it's alright."