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Zach Werenski of Blue Jackets will play in Game 1

Rookie defenseman to return for series opener against Penguins after missing four games with injury

by Craig Merz / NHL.com Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski will play for the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports 3, ROOT, FS-O) after missing the final four games of the regular season with an injury.

Werenski, 19, sustained an upper-body injury when he was checked into the glass by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals on April 2.

Coach John Tortorella saw some good coming out of a bad situation, noting that Werenski might be refreshed like he was coming out of the Blue Jackets' five-day break at the end of February.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins-Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

"Sometimes things happen for a reason," Tortorella said. "This is a real positive for us in that the games that he just missed, there wasn't a whole lot of importance as far us as fighting to get in [the playoffs] and whatever, so it gave him a chance to rest.

"He's one of our top defenseman. The rest may help him."

Werenski returned to practice Tuesday at Nationwide Arena and rejoined Seth Jones on the first defense pair. The others were Jack Johnson and David Savard, and rookie Markus Nutivaara with Kyle Quincey.

Werenski is sixth on the Blue Jackets in scoring with 47 points (11 goals, 36 assists) and was plus-17 in 78 games.

"That's huge for us that he's back, just with his ability on the ice and what he does on the back end," forward Nick Foligno said.

Video: FLA@CBJ: Werenski nets beautiful sharp-angle goal

Leading scorer Cam Atkinson said he talked to Werenski to make sure the defenseman was ready.

"Obviously we need him, but don't push it, don't come back if you're 50 percent," Atkinson said. "Come back when you're ready, 80 percent, or whatever. He says he wouldn't put himself in a vulnerable position if he wasn't ready."

Werenski should help a struggling power play that finished the regular season in a 1-for-24 slump.

Werenski has 21 power-play points (four goals, 17 assists), tying him for second on the Blue Jackets with Atkinson (10 goals, 11 assists) and Foligno (11 goals, 10 assists). Alexander Wennberg leads with 23 points (two goals, 21 assists).

The Blue Jackets qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014, but Tortorella wants to make sure they realize that they earned the fourth-most points in the NHL with 108 (50-24-8).

"They should stick their chest out there," he said. "They belong. That feeling needs to be there when there's struggles in the series."

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