ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida on June 26-27. Zachary Werenski is the No. 9-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the 10th overall selection at the draft.
Zachary Werenski, one of the top-ranked defenders entering the 2015 NHL Draft, has been able to make his game look easy during his young career, and is expected to make the leap to the NHL one day.
"He's such a cool, calm and collected player,” Greg Rajanen, a scout for NHL Central Scouting, told NHL.com. “He's smart, always in the right spot, moves the puck and makes all the right plays.
“At the next level Werenski will be a really a good player who will produce points and be solid defensively."
NHL Central Scouting’s No. 9-rated North American skater played for the United States National Team Development Program during the 2013-14 season. As a top line defender on the team, he collected six goals and 13 assists in 35 games.
Werenski skated alongside Noah Hanifan (the No. 3-rated North American skater) during his time on the USNTDP and Don Granato, the head coach at the time, sees equal potential in both of them as their talent levels are neck and neck.
"Werenski is every bit as close [as Hanifin]," Granato said to NHL.com. "Everything Zach does is effortless, smooth as silk, and it's at high speed. He has power and grace all in one. I remember Zach dominating a few of our practices. Guys on the team would be like, 'This is unfair; switch your hands,' and he would gracefully skate right through everybody."
Last season, after contemplating all of his options, Werenski committed to the University of Michigan after graduating from high school a year early. In his first season for the blue and yellow, he led all Michigan defenders with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 35 games. He finished the year with a plus-9 rating and was tied for the team lead in blocked shots with 59. Werenski was named to the All-Big Ten Hockey First Team and the All-Big Ten Freshman Team as well.
His coach, Red Berenson, was pleased with the freshman’s game all season.
"Right from our first game against Ferris State, Zach might have been our best defenseman in that game," Berenson said to NHL.com. "He really showed us that day that he was more ready to play at this level than even we knew. I was impressed and surprised."
The composure and consistency that the 6-foot-2, 206-pound defenseman shows on the ice are two of his strongest suits. He’s not hesitant with the puck, and he brings a mature game that you can expect on a nightly basis.
"Some players don't know what to do with the puck when they're skating but he knows what to do," Berenson said. "He'll make the smart play. He's got the vision and good wrist shot and he quarterbacks our top power-play unit.”
"He’s a young player who just plays more consistently than most young players," Berenson said in an interview with David Malinowski. "You take most freshmen and they have trouble bringing it every night and every game, and he’s not one of those."
Michigan has had other NHL caliber defenders while Berenson has been at the helm, and the coach believes that Werenski should be taken just as seriously as they were.
"He's had to learn the college game and the quickness, the defensive-zone stuff, our systems and structure, but he was able to continue to play his game and play the right way," Berenson said. "I'd put him right up there with former Michigan defensemen Jacob Trouba, Mike Komisarek, Jack Johnson and Jeff Jillson. They were all first-round picks in the NHL and they all had big-time hockey written all over them just like Zach does."
This past winter, Werenski played in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. The native of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, finished with a goal, an assist, and a plus-5 rating in five games before USA fell to Russia in the quarterfinal.
"I think playing against those kids and playing against the best and seeing where you stand kind of gives you confidence," Werenski told Mike G. Morreale. "I learned that you really have to play hard every shift. These players are the best in the world so they would make you look stupid if you take a shift off."
The next step for Werenski is the NHL draft. Although he’s young, the future looks bright for the American defenseman.
"I can't tell you how close he is to playing in the NHL,” said Berenson, “but I can tell you that for his age he's definitely one of the top players around."