Zach Werenski secures All-Star presence for young Blue Jackets

The most common criticism of Zach Werenski’s style is also his greatest attribute.

The Blue Jackets’ top defenseman skates so well, with long strides, that he’s often mistaken for lack of effort. The truth is, sometimes he’s so good, naturally, that he doesn’t have to go all out, which keeps him on the ice longer.

It’s a mild deception, and Werenski could teach a master’s class on it. His zen-like ability to slow down a frenetic sport using patience and composure is one of the main reasons he became one of the NHL’s top defensemen, guest last week at NHL All-Star Weekend February 4 and 5 in Last Vegas.

“Some guys look like they work hard and they skate fast, and he’s a guy that skates on the ice,” said Jake Bean, one of Werenski’s new defensive partners this season. “He doesn’t have to put in a lot of effort, and that’s one of the reasons he’s so good.”

It’s also a reason Werenski was given an alternate “A” captain ahead of the season. He leads the team in ice time at 26:27 per game, ranked third in the NHL, and his calm demeanor is something many of his peers could handle against the pressure of opposing forechecks.

“Anytime you rush plays, you’re not accurate with the passes and it’s not as clean,” said Werenski, who will be making his second All-Star appearance. “A lot of times that leads to turnovers and it works in favor of (the opponents). They can do their forechecking and their raises fast (at the net) so if we can slow down a game and start making better plays – raise the eyes on the ice, putting pucks on the boards of our forwards – it just helps our team go on offense, go forecheck and set our game.”

Blue Jackets defenseman Jake Bean and Zach Werenski chat during a game.

Look no further than Thursday for an example.

blue jackets offset a humiliating New Year’s Day loss with a 6-0 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes, and they did it a bit like Werenski’s plays.

The Jackets were methodical, driven and relentless against one of the NHL’s best forechecking teams, an effort coach Brad Larsen wanted to “bottle” ahead of another tough road game Saturday against the New York Panthers. Florida.

Having a star defender helps.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface with him,” Larsen said of Werenski, who made his All-Star debut in 2018 as a last-second replacement for Seth Jones. “He is a quality person. He has always been a respectful child and he works hard. I’m happy for him. He definitely deserves the ice time he (plays) for us and what we ask for. This is a great opportunity for him to show off his skills in the All-Star Game.

Werenski doesn’t yet know what event he’ll be competing in at the NHL skills competition. It was the “fastest skater” event in 2018, which led to some comments about his long stride skating style.

Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is looking to get around San Jose's Timo Meier.

“It’s been my whole career, having these long strides,” said Werenski, who is 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds. “Last time I was at the All-Star Game, I did ‘fastest skater’ and the guys on the bench were joking that I wasn’t trying. But that’s how I skate. That’s how and how I play hockey.

It’s also how he earned All-Star invites. Seth Jones was selected for the Blue Jackets four years ago, but Werenski was clearly next.

This time it’s different.

Jones was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in July, clearing the way for Werenski to claim the Jackets invite, and his former defense partner must win the ‘Last Man In’ online fan vote for the division team. central.

“It’s weird because there are so many guys in the league that could be on those rosters,” Werenski said. “I understand that they have to take someone from each team, but I think any time you can be honored in any capacity, with stars or guys going to that event, it’s always a cool feeling and it’s definitely feels pretty special.

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