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Blue Jackets prospect Zach Werenski named U.S. captain for World Junior tournament

by Mike G. Morreale / Columbus Blue Jackets

Defenseman Zachary Werenski on Tuesday was named captain of the United States National Junior Team that will play in the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland.

Werenski (6-foot-2, 221 pounds), selected in the first round (No. 8) of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, is in his second season at the University of Michigan. He is the second-youngest player named captain of the U.S. National Junior Team.

Defenseman Louis Belpedio (Minnesota Wild) and forwards Colin White (Ottawa Senators) and Auston Matthews, an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, will serve as alternates. White will be an alternate when the team wears blue jerseys and Matthews will be alternate when the team wears white.

"We're excited about our leadership group here in Finland," said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. "Zach, Louie, Auston and Colin have led by example since day one in Lake Placid this August and have the respect of everybody in the room."

Werenski had one goal, two points and a plus-3 rating in five games for the United States at the 2015 WJC. He will likely be paired with Brandon Carlo (Boston Bruins) when the tournament begins against defending gold medalist Canada in preliminary-round action Saturday. Werenski has four goals, 12 points, 42 shots on goal and 32 blocked shots in 15 games for the Wolverines.

"What I learned about last year was that you can't come home without hardware," Werenski said. "That's the one thing I learned last year after finishing in fifth place, which wasn't good enough. That's what has been in the back of my mind, making sure I come home with a medal."

Belpedio (5-10, 194), who served as captain for the Under-18 U.S. national junior team in 2013-14, has two goals and 10 points in 16 games in his second season at Miami University-Ohio. He is representing the United States at the U-20 WJC for the first time.

Matthews (6-1, 210) is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. He left the United States to play for the Zurich Lions in Switzerland's top professional league following USA Hockey's junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August. The native of Scottsdale, Ariz., who has 14 goals and 25 points in 22 games for Zurich, returned to represent his country at the WJC.

Matthews had one goal, three points and 16 shots on goal in five games at the 2015 WJC in Montreal and Toronto.

White (6-0, 187), also making his first appearance for the United States at the U-20 WJC, is in his first season at Boston College. The right-handed center, who will likely play on a line with Sonny Milano (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Christian Dvorak (Arizona Coyotes), has eight goals and 23 points in 16 games with the Eagles.

The 2016 WJC will be held Saturday to Jan. 5, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. The U.S. and Canada are joined in Group A by Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Finland and Belarus are in Group B.

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