Werenski closeup

Zach Werenski is a veteran now, not just a longtime Blue Jackets standby but a key member of the team’s leadership group.

He generally knows what it takes to get ready to play through an NHL season ... but this past fall, Werenski entered the campaign in a slightly different spot.

He played just 13 games in 2022-23 before a shoulder injury ended his campaign. Not only was it a tough pill to swallow, it also meant Werenski went nearly a full year between NHL games.

So when he finally did step back on the ice this past October for his eighth big-league season, Werenski felt like he was in a new situation.

“I think for me personally, coming into the season, I didn’t have any expectations after missing a year,” the 26-year-old defenseman said. “Usually I try to set broad goals of points and all that stuff, but this year I was pretty much an empty page. I didn’t know what to expect.”

PIT@CBJ: Werenski scores goal against Alex Nedeljkovic

It felt like it took Werenski some time to knock off the rust – he had just two goals in his first 42 games – but by the end of the campaign, he put together one of the most notable and productive seasons from the blue line in CBJ history.

Werenski finished with 11 goals and 46 assists for 57 points in just 70 games, setting off a laundry list of accomplishments for the Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., native.

  • His 46 assists established a new CBJ record for defensemen in a season, and his 57 points tied Seth Jones’ single-season mark in that category as well.
  • With four points in the season finale, he became the first CBJ defenseman and sixth player overall in union blue to top the 300-point mark in his career.
  • With his 11 goals, Werenski notched his sixth career season with double digits in tallies; every other CBJ blueliner in team history combined has six such seasons.
  • Werenski now has 90 goals in eight seasons since making his NHL debut, seventh among NHL defensemen in that time frame behind only Roman Josi, Brent Burns, Dougie Hamilton, Victor Hedman, John Carlson and Alex Pietrangelo.
  • He also notched 0.66 assists per game this year, 11th among NHL defensemen.
  • On a team that finished with a minus-21 goal differential at 5-on-5 this year, the Blue Jackets outscored teams 80-69 (plus-11) when Werenski was on the ice.

“I think from the start of the season to the finish, I’m really happy with how it went,” said Werenski, who will keep playing this spring on Team USA at the upcoming IIHF World Championsips. “I think toward the end I was back to myself again. Career year and points and assists; I didn’t score for a while and still finished with a decent amount of goals, so I think in that area I'm happy with it.

“I definitely think there’s work to improve on and areas to improve on, but I think for me personally it was a good year to be back and just play that full season again.”

PHI@CBJ: Werenski scores goal against Samuel Ersson

While the offensive accomplishments were notable, head coach Pascal Vincent was most impressed by other parts of Werenski’s game. While he doesn’t play the same style of defensive game as, say, an Erik Gudbranson, Werenski still uses his skill and anticipation to break up plays before they get into the defensive zone and then is able to transition into offense.

The head coach also said the alternate captain’s leadership skills were noticeable as the season went on as well.

“There’s the offensive part of it, but his defensive game is improving as well,” Vincent said. “He’s been consistently getting better. We’ve said it all year, but the one thing we’ve done really well as a team is keeping the mind-set right – looking at things like, what do we need to do today to get better for tomorrow – and Zach is a part of that. He’s part of the leadership group.”

Damon Severson just spent his first year in Columbus and was Werenski’s defensive partner down the stretch, and there’s no doubt in his mind Werenski is one of the top defensemen in the game.

“We think the game similarly,” Severson said. “We want to move the puck. We want to create offense as best we can, but you have to take care of your own end first. We both skate well, we both have good shots. There’s a lot of similar things, and the talent that he brings to the game and the mind-set that he brings to the game, I would include him in that group of players that would be here long term that can push us over the top.

“There are a few other guys in there as well that are in that core group of players who can help the team. He’s definitely one of them. You see it on a nightly basis. Fantastic player.”

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