Is Zach Werenski a Calder Trophy candidate? And could he regress after his strong rookie season?

He is on pace for a 58-point season. Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal says that he should be the Calder Trophy winner this season. The player is not Auston Matthews. Nor Patrik Laine.

Who is he? Well he is defenseman Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He is currently tied for fourth in rookie scoring, only behind Laine, Matthews and Mitch Marner and equal to William Nylander.

Here are some of the reasons Matheson directs your attention towards as to why Werenski should win rookie of the year honors.

“… defense is infinitely harder as a rookie. Mistakes are magnified. Werenski, who’s starting to get targeted now with teams hitting him hard, doesn’t make many. He’s awfully calm with the puck,” writes Matheson.

His coach John Tortorella says “I look at how this kid thinks the game, how mature mentally he is now (19 years old). Defense is the engine of our club,” and, “He’s just a helluva player. He’s a man-child (6-foot-2, 209 pounds). I don’t think there’s a limit to what he can do.”

Further on in the article he is compared to Alex Pietrangelo, and we are told that he has similarities to Scott Niedermayer, loves Drew Doughty’s ice presence, and that he studied how Niklas Lidstom played the game while he was at school in Michigan.

His general manager John Davidson, tells us that, “He comes from a grounded family”, “he’s a rink rat, he’s zero maintenance” but most of all, “All I’ll say is if you get a Pietrangelo or a Niedermayer (or a Doughty) on your team… guys who are in the upper echelon at their position, those are franchise players for you.”

This is excellent stuff. I will even add to it with some statistics.

His 20 points right now places him tied for 59th of all rookie defensemen performances since the 2005-06 season. I will reiterate that he has only played 28 games so far. He can clearly reach higher levels.

If he gets 10 additional points, then he would be tied for 23rd. If he doubles his current output to accumulate a total of 40 points, then he would be tied for eighth.

If he were to reach 50 points, which will be tough, it would be the best production from a rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf’s 49. That same Phaneuf also shoots left, like Werenski, and was listed as being 6-foot-2, 205 pounds in The Hockey News’ 2005-06 Ultimate Pool Guide.

He might, just might win the title too because there could be a lot of vote splitting not only between Matthews and Laine, but amongst the three Toronto Maple Leaf prospects. Throw in a couple of rogue votes for Jimmy Vesey or Travis Konecny and Werenski might be giving an acceptance speech in Las Vegas.

However, here are some reasons why he will not win.

Laine is on pace for a 42-goal season. That would place him only behind Alex Ovechkin’s 52 goals as a rookie and it would be three more than Sidney Crosby’s 39. In these times where scoring is down getting a player that can put the puck in the net is very important.

Matthews is not too far off with his own pace of 39 goals. Both Laine and Matthews are lining up for 64-point seasons as well.

If we were to turn our attention to the other side, voters will consider goaltender Matt Murray for the award too.

Murray has earned 12 victories in 14 game starts, with a goals against average of 1.86 and a save percentage of 0.937. Imagine the amount of pressure he has to be under. If he makes any mistakes everyone will know it because the goal light will turn on.

What was it that Davidson said about echelon players? Oh yes, “Those are franchise players for you.”

Whatever gains that might be created from a vote split between the rookie forwards, there might be another equal split between Murray and Werenski.

While winning the rookie of the year award would validate fantasy owners’ acquisition of Werenski, it will not necessarily win them their fantasy leagues.

In looking at the 67 rookie defensemen from 2005-06 to this season that scored 19 or more points, I came away with some interesting observations.

First, only two have won the Calder Trophy, Tyler Myers and Aaron Ekblad. Myers is an eight-year veteran that averages 24.8 points a season, whereas Ekblad is in his third and averages 28.3 points a year as a pro.

Nearly half of the defensemen could only better their rookie production more than once in subsequent seasons. The average number of times was 1.82 out of 453 player seasons.

In terms of points, their average production per season was 24.6.

Of the top 25 rookie performances in that time span (turned out to be 30 points or more), 14 defensemen remained ranked within the top 25 of that group over their careers. Only six were in the top 10. This includes the current season’s statistics, which impacts the average for players like Shayne Gostisbehere.

Career Rank


Rookie Season

Average Career

# of Times Better than Rookie Season


 Erik Karlsson





 P.K. Subban





 Duncan Keith





 Kevin Shattenkirk





 John Klingberg





 Drew Doughty





 Dion Phaneuf





 Torey Krug





 John Carlson





 Brent Seabrook




The average career span calculated based on all 67 defensemen was 6.76 years and only half remained (or remain) with the team that they started their NHL careers with.

Fantasy hockey owners will be ecstatic if Werenski ends up performing like Karlsson, Lidstrom or Niedermayer, and it sure looks like he will. They will quickly forget if he won or placed dead last in the Calder Trophy voting.

The only selection that matters is the one that ends up placing Werenski on your team.