Once a highly-touted prospect, Columbus’Blue Jackets centre Alex Wennberg has shown mixed results at the National Hockey League level.
How Good is Alex Wennberg, if at all?
Alex Wennberg was a well-thought-of prospect going into the 2013 National Hockey League entry draft. The Swede possessed high quality skating, puck-handling and passing ability. Wennberg’s attractive skill set was capped off by his ability to play centre at a high level (Wennberg played for Allsvensken, the second-highest league in Sweden prior to the draft).
He was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets 14th overall that draft. After completing a fairly-productive season in the Swedish Hockey League, Wennberg was ready to make the NHL full-time. Met with much anticipation, the results were a little disappointing.
in 68 games with the Blue Jackets in 2014-15, Wennberg recorded four goals and 16 assists (20 points). The 20-year-old Swede also posted a below average 49.3 CF% and a poor 96.2 PDO rating while starting an astonishing 52.5% of his shifts in the defensive zone.
Wennberg was also credited with creating six goals (involved directly in a play where Columbus had scored). All these statistics essentially mean that Wennberg was not especially effective at scoring nor defending, although he was tasked as the Jackets’ defensive centre. The graph below shows Wennberg In comparison to other rookies that season.
As displayed above, Wennberg is not exactly up to par with other rookies that season in terms of production and overall effectiveness. The Swede’s sophomore season was far better though.
In a season limited to just 69 games due to injury (it is not the last time you’ll be hearing that), Wennberg scored eight goals and added 32 assists for 40 points. Furthermore, Wennberg averaged a 50.0 CF% and a 100.4 PDO rating. These two statistics essentially mean that Wennberg is playing at exactly the pace of an average NHL player.
However, Wennberg emerged as a key contributor on the Jackets’ offense, as he was responsible for the creation of 13 goals for Columbus (more than doubling his rookie total). Much of Wennberg’s success this season can be accredited to deployment, as Wennberg started 54.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone (increases probability of scoring, +7.4% from his rookie season). Now, he is much more in-line with his counterparts.
In the 2016-17 season, Wennberg truly emerged as a core piece on Columbus’ roster. In 80 games played (career high), the quick playmaker scored 13 goals and added 46 assists for 59 points (another career high). While averaging a 51.6 CF% and a 101.0 PDO rating, Wennberg was able to create exactly 20 goals for his teammates. Moreover, Wennberg started 59.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This good production combined with ideal deploymet and favourable analytics was enough to convince the Blue Jackets that the centre was worth a 6-year, $29.4 million contract ($4.9 million AAV). Once again, here is Wennberg and his comparables.
Following a season of career highs, Wennberg was bound to face some regression, although it certainly was more confusing than expected.
While starting a more-than-favourable 61.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Wennberg only managed eight goals and 27 assists for a mediocre 35 points. On top of these poor numbers, Wennberg’s advanced analytics were…better than his career highs. He averaged a very good 53.7 CF% and a good 102.2 PDO rating.
The speedy Swede was also credited with creating 12 goals for his teammates. So, Wennberg actually improved in terms of offensive opportunities and defensive abilities, but lost a fraction of his scoring. In my opinion, this season should not be taken as a negative, as Wennberg established himself as a valuable two-way piece on CBJ’s roster.
The 2018-19 season was not kind to Wennberg to say the absolute least. in 75 games, Columbus’ top centre only scored two goals and 23 assists for a measly 25 points. This time, poor stats were followed by poor analytics.
While starting a concerning 49% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Wennberg averaged an mediocre 50.8 CF% and a bad 98.4 PDO rating. He also created seven goals for his Jackets teammates. His 2018-19 season was atrocious, reflecting similar numbers to that of his rookie season.
It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong with Wennberg this past season, but deployment (unlike past seasons) must have been a contributing factor.
During the 2016-17 season, when he posted career high totals, Wennberg averaged 18:23 minutes of ice time (the most of his career), while he only averaged 15:05 minutes of ice-time this past season (while posting down numbers).
Wennberg has displayed a fair amount of inconsistency throughout, but has remained a fairly positive influence on the Blue Jackets when healthy and in the lineup.
While on a large, long term contract, Wennberg is only 24 years-old and has shown enough at the NHL level to suggest that he is capable of being a full time top-six forward. However, deployment of the Swede has varied from bottom-six minutes to second-line time, never really having a defined role.
Thus, Wennberg either needs to adjust to whatever role he is dropped in by Head coach John Tortorella or he may find himself out of town. A good player with plenty more to give, I’d be hoping to find a new team if I was Wennberg.
Statistics and Other information retrieved from hockey-reference.com, capfriendly.com, eliteprospects.com, and quanthockey.com
Graphs created in Google Sheets with the help of Kyle Pereira
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals