The Columbus chapter of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association has voted defenseman Zach Werenski as the Blue Jackets’ nominee for the 2024 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award is given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.

Werenski has enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons for a defenseman in Blue Jackets’ history. His path to that point has been full of pitfalls and dedication to recovery.

Overcoming Lost 2022-23 Season

The 2022-23 season was just in its second month. The Blue Jackets were trying to find their footing on the new season. In a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Werenski recorded a goal and an assist to help the Blue Jackets to a 5-2 win. The win came at a costly price.

Werenski tried to throw a body check late in the first period and missed the Flyers’ player while hitting the glass awkwardly. He went to the locker room. He would not be seen again that season.

Werenski suffered both a separated shoulder and a torn labrum on the play. The team announced the next day the bad news. The Blue Jackets’ number-one defenseman was done for the season. It was a sign of things to come.

Zach Werenski Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski missed most of the 2022-23 season due to a separated shoulder and torn labrum. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Blue Jackets could not recover from such a devastating injury. Eventually, the injury bug caught up with most everyone on the team. They finished the 2022-23 season with the second-worst record in the NHL.

Werenski had his shoulder surgery performed in December in Vail, CO. The silver lining in this was that he would have ample time to recover and go through the rigors of therapy. He did everything asked of him and was ready to go for Training Camp in the fall.

2023-24 Started No Better Either

Opening night in the NHL always brings a level of excitement for the new season. For Werenski, it was a fresh start. It was months of hard work and dedication to be ready to go. But instead of excitement, it was here we go again.

In the Blue Jackets’ season-opening game against the Flyers, Werenski took a hit from Flyers’ forward Garnet Hathaway. At first, Werenski couldn’t get off the ice. With the help of his teammates and the trainer, he was off to the locker room. Was this yet another long injury recovery to come?

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In this instance, Werenski avoided the worst. He was diagnosed with a quad contusion. That only cost him two games. But then yet another injury came about right after Christmas.

In the first game after the Christmas break, Werenski suffered an ankle injury against the New Jersey Devils and was out week-to-week. He was able to return on the Blue Jackets’ Western Canada road trip against the Calgary Flames on Jan 25. When he’s been available and in the lineup, he’s turned in one of the best offensive seasons for a defenseman in team history.

Werenski Finding His Form

Werenski has a line of 7-42-49 in 64 games this season. His 42 assists are the second-most by a defenseman in team history only trailing James Wisniewski’s 44 in 2013-14.

Werenski’s 42 assists and 49 points are both career highs. His next point would make him the third defenseman in team history to reach 50 points in a season joining Wisniewski and Seth Jones.

Despite playing with multiple partners on the blueline, Werenski has taken big strides in his overall game. He’s gotten better as the season has gone on while shaking off the rust of not playing for almost 11 months. His 24:28 of ice time per game puts him in the top-15 in the NHL.

Werenski’s road to recovery from a separated shoulder and a torn labrum showed both his perseverance and dedication to hockey. He’s taken on more of a leadership role inside the Blue Jackets’ locker room. Even during his recovery, he made a difference in the community both in Columbus and at the University of Michigan. On the ice, he does things the right way and has earned the respect of the officials and the players he plays against.

It’s for all these reasons that Werenski was voted as the Blue Jackets’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2024.


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