When the Columbus Blue Jackets signed James Wisniewski to a six-year contract in 2011, the expectations were he would play a significant role in the top defensive pair.
Defense - CBJ
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 44 | PTS: 51
SOG: 166 | +/-: 0
But that wasn't exactly the case after he struggled with suspensions and injuries the previous two seasons.
A transformed Wisniewski will enter the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs a much more confident player, making big contributions on the top pair in the wake of his finest offensive season as a professional.
"The biggest thing for me right now is winning," Wisniewski told The Columbus Dispatch. "Yeah, the numbers are there, and it's good to see that. But if I'm playing the right way and producing, I feel like I'll be helping my team win.
"I'm not the kind of guy to sit back on a six-year deal and just chill out. I didn't sign here for the six-year deal. I signed here to win. I signed here because I believe it's going to happen here, and I want to be a part of it. I want to help make it happen."
Wisniewski, who was able to bounce back from various ailments this season, certainly made it happen in the regular season and will be looked upon to continue that trend when it matters most in the postseason.
"The first couple of seasons for Wiz were kind of a roller-coaster ride, him dealing with injuries and suspensions," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "We weren't a good team like we are now. But he's one of the reasons it has turned around; he's one of those guys who has stepped it up."
Not only has Wisniewski been setting personal marks this year, but he has been ranked among the NHL leaders for defensemen in power-play points, assists and points per game. Early in his career, he was more a stay-at-home, physical defenseman. But Wisniewski has broken the mold, at least for this season, and the Blue Jackets are reaping the benefits.
The fact he's been paired with either rookie Ryan Murray or veteran Fedor Tyutin has aided in his progression since Murray and Tyutin are each responsible and smart with the puck. That has enabled Wisniewski to have the freedom to work his magic and become a more effective shooter from the point or passer off the transition en route to surpassing Jaroslav Spacek and establishing a franchise record for points by a defenseman.
His big slap shot has brought to life a power play that was ranked near the bottom of the League in 2012-13. He was on quite a pace to close out the season, collecting 12 points during an 11-game stretch from March 25 through April 12.
"This is the most fun I've ever had coming to the rink," Wisniewski said. "The guys we have in here, it's like a brotherhood. The winning just makes it that much sweeter."