There has been plenty of debate over the last two years with Alexander Wennberg emerging as the number one center for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While he is obviously the best option in Columbus, is he a true number one center?
Comparing Alexander Wennberg to the NHL’s Best Centers
The first thing to look at would be the base stats: goals and assists. It must be said that Wennberg is undeniably a pass-first type center. He is not going to compare favorably to some of the best goal scoring centers out there, but that’s okay.
For instance, his best goal total of 13 last season ranks T-293rd for individual seasons among centers since the 2013-14 season. But, as said before, he doesn’t shoot regularly and looks to create goals.
Creating goals is where he shines. His career-high in assists, 46 last season, ranks T-32nd for best single-season totals among centers since 2013-14. This puts him in the company with players like Ryan Johansen, Tyler Seguin, and Matt Duchene.
The argument can be made for all three of these comparable players for being a true number one center, with Duchene the only one having doubts. So if Wennberg is able to create goals at the same rate, should he start being considered a true number one as well?
It is a strong point for Wennberg that he compares to these names in goal creation. But his goal tally in individual season pales in comparison to Seguin, is below that of the best seasons of Duchene, and is really only comparable to that of Johansen, a center many believe is an elite one, and his $8 million AAV proves that the Nashville Predators share that sentiment.
For the sake of continuity, we will continue to compare Wennberg to the aforementioned Seguin, Johansen, and Duchene. Johansen to see how he compares to the last number one center in Columbus; Duchene due to all the rumors and a number of fans that wanted Columbus to acquire him; Seguin because he is one of the top offensive forwards in the league.
To make the sample size, and comparison, significant we have included the games played so far in the 2017-18 season to the seasons between 2014-15 to 2016-17. This leaves us with Wennberg at 235 games played, Seguin at 241, Duchene at 250, and Johansen at 260.
In this time period, Wennberg is third in Relative Corsi-For Percentage (Rel.CF%) at 1.23, beating out the 1.01 of Duchene and falling behind the 2.25 of Seguin and the 3.05 of Johansen.
And while Wennberg is the lowest of the four in xGF, at 118.71, he is far and away the best for xGA (117.05). This compares to the 124.44 xGF and 152.77 xGA of Duchene, 144.73 xGF and 136.59 xGA of Johansen, and the 159.17 xGF and 148.89 xGA of Seguin.
Another thing to strengthen the argument is when you take into account the quality of teammates (QoT) and quality of competition (QoC) each of the four have had. When adjusting for those, Wennberg has a CF% QoT of 49.77, second only to the 50.95 that Seguin has posted. He is third in CF% QoC, beating out Seguin by 0.01 with his 49.85, falling 0.17 behind Johansen and 0.45 behind Duchene.
Transitioning away from pure shot-based metrics and looking at another important part of the game: passing. To level out the playing field, the best thing to look at would iGVA/60 and iTKA/60. That is individual giveaways and takeaways per 60. Wennberg compares favorably in this department, having the lowest iGVA/60 (1.01) and the second highest iTKA/60 (2.17), trailing only the 2.32 that Duchene has posted.
So what do all these numbers mean to the argument for or against Wennberg? They show that in a couple of very important aspects of the game he compares favorably to some of the best at his position. It also shows that those who wanted Duchene in Columbus would not have seen an upgrade on Wennberg, rather a battle between the 1C/2C spot on the roster.
Alexander Wennberg is a number one center
Despite the alleged struggles he is enduring this season (it is debatable whether or not these are actually occurring), Wennberg has compared favorably to some big names in multiple different metrics.
Columbus fans wanted Duchene all off-season, and Wennberg is neck-and-neck with him in all given metrics; Johansen was a number one center in Columbus and is in Nashville, getting himself an $8 million AAV contract, and Wennberg is neck-and-neck with him; Seguin is considered one of the best in the game, and Wennberg is neck-and-neck with him as well.
This leaves no reasonable doubt to say that Alexander Wennberg is truly a number one center.