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Now signed, Werenski focused on having a strong start

Offseason of work has defenseman in great shape heading into season

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

There's the good news, that Zach Werenski won't miss any part of training camp and is now locked up for the next three years after signing a $15 million contract with the Blue Jackets on Monday. 

Then there's the bad news -- Werenski now must join the rest of his teammates in the annual two-mile run that kicks off training camp Thursday. 

"I'm not sure how the run is going to go," Werenski said Monday evening after driving from his home in Michigan to Columbus. "I'm not a good runner." 

Whether he is able to finish the two miles in 12 minutes or not, it won't be because of a lack of trying from the defenseman. One year after having to spend his summer rehabbing a shoulder injury that required surgery at the conclusion of the campaign, Werenski had a full offseason to work on getting better. 

Looking back, the 22-year-old can point to the lack of summer work as one reason he got off to a slow start last year that included him being moved off the top pairing with Seth Jones. 

MORE: Signing sews up another piece of the Jackets' young core | Werenski talks re-signing on NHL Network

That hasn't been the case this offseason, though, as Werenski spent the first half of his summer in the gym adding the strength he couldn't a year ago. He's been back on the ice for about a month working on skating and skill as well, and he heads to Columbus with everything aligned to the point he should be ready to hit the ice flying this year. 

"I think going into camp last year and the start of the year, I didn't really feel like myself," he said. "I didn't really have that summer of training, and I think summers are really important for a hockey player. It's a time to get better, get faster, get stronger, and I didn't have that, so it took some time for me to get going. I think I learned a lot last year.  

"This summer just building on that stuff and working toward being a better hockey player, being stronger in the gym and stuff like that, I'm really excited to get the year going and get going on the right foot this time." 

Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm2: Werenski scores off draw on power play

Of course, most NHL defenseman would still have loved to have had the season Werenski put together last year in his third season. After an early call from head coach John Tortorella to tighten up his defensive game, Werenski did just that as the year went on and eventually returned to the top pairing with Jones.  

Offensively, his 11-33-44 line placed him 22nd in scoring among NHL defensemen and sixth all-time in single-season points for a CBJ defenseman. There was also a strong finish that included three goals and 14 points in the last 12 games plus playoffs. 

Now locked up, Werenski is another piece of the Blue Jackets' long-term puzzle that includes Jones, Werenski, Markus Nutivaara, Scott Harrington, Cam Atkinson, Gustav Nyquist, Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner all signed for at least the next three seasons along with promising youngsters like Emil Bemstrom, Liam Foudy and Trey Fix-Wolansky. 

"I'm really excited," Werenski said. "Obviously I've known Gus for a couple of years now and Cam and Jonesy and (David Savard), (Nick Foligno), Booner, (Brandon Dubinsky), everyone that is here and wants to be here, I'm really excited about. I think they're great guys in the locker room.  

"I think we have a great team on the ice. I know a lot of people are kind of writing us off already, but we have a lot to prove. We're a good hockey team, so I'm excited to get things going. It's going to be a fun couple of years coming up." 

It was also important to Werenski to get the deal done before training camp begins Thursday, a feeling echoed by team management.  

"I think when you get to camp, and obviously camp is not very fun, but it's a time where you can start to work toward that goal you have as a team," Werenski said. "Everyone is doing the same stuff, everyone is working together and battling together. I think it's a very important time for everybody, including myself. I didn't want to miss any time here in camp. I'm happy I'm not." 

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said Monday that contracts of varying lengths were discussed between the team and Werenski, but the three-year deal -- which leaves Werenski with one final year of restricted free agency after the 2021-22 season -- worked best for both sides. 

Now, with Werenski signed, sealed and delivered, the defenseman and the club can focus on going forward.  

"I'm really excited," he said. "It was a long summer of kind of thinking about it and wondering what was going to happen. For it to finally be done and just knowing I'm going to be in training camp with everybody, I'm really excited about it. It's been an awesome day for me." 

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