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Sunday Feature: Werenski off to promising start

19-year-old defenseman scored first NHL goal vs. Sharks

by Rob Mixer @RobMixer /

Zach Werenski possesses many qualities that make his coaches, management and teammates feel comfortable saying he will be an impact player - and perhaps very soon.

One of those attributes is a knack for getting his shot through traffic and on the net. It's not the hardest shot nor is it the heaviest, but every time he flicks his wrists, the puck seems to have a set of eyes when it's en route.

Fittingly, that's exactly how he scored his first NHL goal.

The Blue Jackets did not play their best game on October 15 against the San Jose Sharks (a 3-2 loss at Nationwide Arena), but one of the bright spots was another step forward by their young defense.

Down 2-0 in the third period and needing something to spark their struggling offense, Werenski stepped in and ignited a rally.

After Alexander Wennberg eluded a check from Mikkel Boedker and drifted to the half wall, he found Werenski at the right point with only a split-second to get the puck toward the cage. He did just that - zipping a quick shot no more than ankles-high that missed a few sticks and skates before slipping through the pads of Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.

Video: SJS@CBJ: Werenski snipes first NHL goal on power play

Werenski said after the game that it was a play they'd worked on during the morning skate: getting the pass from the wall and trying to get a "high tip" on the point shot.

This time, it happened to work out and the result was a milestone moment for the Blue Jackets' 19-year-old budding star defenseman.

"It's definitely special," Werenski said. "It's a special moment and something I've always dreamed of, but we didn't get the win so it's kind of tough."

Werenski's parents, Ken and Kristen, were on hand to witness their son's first career goal in person - one both they and the Blue Jackets hope is the first of many.

Werenski played 22:53 against San Jose game and nearly 21 minutes in the season opener. He has quickly earned the trust of the coaching staff to play big minutes alongside defense partner Seth Jones.

 Video: Zach Werenski reacts to scoring his first NHL goal

A lot of his ice time has come on the power play, which has been a bright spot for Columbus despite its 0-2 start. The Blue Jackets have converted twice on five opportunities (40 percent), and though it's a small sample size, Werenski has played a role in its success.

"The guys have moved the puck pretty well," Werenski said. "We can score goals and shoot the puck pretty good, so for me, it's just going out there and making the right play and the rest will take care of itself."

John Tortorella said the increased ice time is earned, but he thinks there's another level for Werenski.

"Zach is a guy that you can see, especially tonight, how he can control the game with the puck," Tortorella said. "The god-given ability that he has is at a different level than a lot of players in this league. It's really encouraging."

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