This year has produced one of the most exciting rookie classes in recent memory with the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Patrik Laine getting the majority of the headlines. Columbus Blue Jackets defender Zach Werenski should be warranting more buzz.
First of all, it looks as if the Calder Trophy race is between the first and second overall picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are producing at incredible rates for NHL newbies.
Many are still enthralled with Auston Matthews’ opening four-goal performance that they have forgotten to look deeper into his campaign. Matthews has been a hot and cold player throughout most of the season. When he gets hot, he produces points in bunches. When he gets cold, he can be held off the scoresheet for seven games in a row.
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Oct 19, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) chases Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (29) during the third period at MTS Centre. Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Patrik Laine didn’t produce a single point during the preseason and some believed maybe he wasn’t quite ready. 33 goals later, and Laine is the obvious candidate for the Calder Trophy. He currently leads the rookie scoring race with 60 points in 64 games, while Matthews is second with 56 in 70 games.
The player in question is Columbus Blue Jackets‘ defenseman Zach Werenski. Werenski has produced 46 points on the back end while stringing together an impressive +22 rating while averaging 21 minutes per night.
At only 19 years of age, Werenski has become the go-to guy on a Columbus team that has shocked the entire hockey world in their quest for the President’s Trophy.
Werenski has seemingly come out of nowhere and he came out fast. The Columbus Blue Jackets selected Werenski eighth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft out of the University of Michigan. He finished his sophomore season as a point-per-game defender in college before signing a contract to finish the season with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.
Werenski only saw seven games in the regular season and he only scored one goal, Werenski stepped up his game to play a crucial role in the Monsters’ Calder Cup championship. He scored five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 17 games.
Werenski didn’t miss a beat over the summer, and now he is on the cusp of putting up a 50+ point season in his rookie year.
Jan 10, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defensemen Zach Werenski (8) looks on against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
In an article by Jim Matheson for The Edmonton Journal, Matheson asked Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella to comment on his young defender. Tortorella responded “I look at how this kid thinks the game, how mature mentally he is now…I don’t think there’s a limit to what he can do.”
It’s becoming the norm that a team needs a bonafide number one defenceman to be a Stanley Cup contender and Werenski has been that guy for Columbus. Yes, The Columbus Blue Jackets are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season.
There has always been an eastern bias when it comes to the NHL Awards, but anybody with half a brain in their skull should be able to realize that Werenski is the most deserving of the rookie of the year.
I won’t hold my breath, but Auston Matthews is not even in the top two in my honest opinion, but because he plays for the Maple Leafs, I would not be shocked to see him win the award.