2022-23 Player Review: Zach Werenski played 13 games before tearing his shoulder - where does he go from here?
Another season derailed by injury
Stop me if you have heard this one before: Zach Werenski is going to be heading into next season coming off of a major injury and looking to rebound.
Werenski was set to be the number one defenseman on the roster - following a season in which the Blue Jackets overachieved, Werenski was expected to be the centerpiece of a team that took the next step, settled the defensive struggles from the year before, and helped lead the team back into playoff contention as part of the reset in the organization.
Instead, disaster - Werenski played 13 games, posted a 3-5-8 scoring line with a -6, then tore his labrum and separated his shoulder which required him to miss the rest of the season. The defense, already a mess on the ice with Werenski, never recovered from his absence as the team again set a record for goals allowed.
The defense MUST improve next season - this team has allowed a franchise record in goals these last two seasons. That is unacceptable at any level, and must be held to accoutn. Werenski will be a key cog in that - with young help in the form of Stanislav Svozil, David Jiricek, and Corson Cuelemans on the way, the team has to get this right and this starts with the $9+ million dollar guy under contract. Werenski has to stay healthy this season and become the #1 defenseman he is paid to be.
5v5 CF%: 55.7%
5v5 FF%: 56.0%
small sample size caveats apply for all rate stats - Werenski played 307 total minutes last season
Last season was the first year of Werenski's 6 year, $57.5 million dollar extension. He has 5 years remaining - next years contract pays him a $10 million signing bonus while his cap hit is $9,583,333. Werenski also has a full no-move clause, so he will be a part of the Blue Jackets' roster for the foreseeable future.
Such an extensive list to pick from this season.
In lieu of picking something on the ice, Werenski's honor actually comes off the ice - despite missing most of the season, Werenski was named the Blue Jackets' Community MVP this year. Werenski's generosity was grand this season - he hosted groups to a suite throughout the season that treated ill children, military veterans and families, and youth hockey players to games while also contributing to families in need throughout the season and supporting first responders. Werenski has embraced the Columbus community and the city and hockey community is better off for his kindness and generosity.
Tearing his labrum and separating his shoulder. Werenski's career has been marred by injuries - in addition to this season-ending injury, Werenski has previously played through a torn labrum, shattered his face during the playoffs against the Penguins, and played through a hernia in the 56 game season that required him to cut his season short. Once again, another year cut short by injury - this time due to a bad sequence against the Philadelphia Flyers where Werenski missed a check.
No one is more frustrated by his injuries than Werenski, but for the Blue Jackets to reach their ceiling, he must stay healthy. It's harsh, and not entirely his fault, but it's simply a reality. We are treading dangerously close to Ryan Murray territory.
I mean, I don't know how else you can grade him. He played 13 games, the team was terrible while he played from a results standpoint, but Werenski did all he could and more to force this team to be competitive in the games he did play. On a team that was getting crushed all over the ice, Werenski had positive Corsi and Fenwick metrics. Werenski had a .615 points per game average which, extrapolated over the full season, would've put him 4th on the team between Boone Jenner and Jack Roslovic.
For this team to succeed, Werenski has to stay healthy and he just hasn't - that's a fact. But, his injuries haven't been his fault - they have been flukes, bad hits, and puck luck gone awry. If he can buy a season of good luck (a rarity for this organization), he can prove himself a top defenseman and worthy of his AAV. He just hasn't had the chance.
Perhaps next year can be the year.
How would you grade Boone Jenner's season?