All eyes are on Zach Werenski as he now contemplates his next move.
His sophomore season at the University of Michigan ended Saturday night in Cincinnati with a 5-2 Midwest Regional Final loss to North Dakota, dashing hopes of another Frozen Four appearance for one of college hockey’s most successful programs.
The Wolverines twice tied the Fighting Hawks but the No. 1 seed withstood each Michigan push, eventually pulling away in the third period and salting the game away.
North Dakota opened the scoring late in the first period, led 1-0 after the first period and carried a 2-1 lead into the third period. Michigan got its two equalizing goals courtesy of JT Compher, the second one coming on a play engineered by Werenski and freshmen phenom Kyle Connor (a Winnipeg draft pick).
Offense was hard to come by for the Wolverines after they tied the game 2-2; North Dakota answered with goals in a 1:14 span to establish a two-goal advantage, and then got an empty-netter at 18:19 to seal the deal.
So, back to Werenski. He finishes the 2015-16 season as one of college hockey’s most dynamic defensemen (if not the most dynamic), and as of Sunday, was third in the nation in scoring among all blue liners – and he’s only 18 years old.
As a defenseman, Werenski was Michigan's fourth-leading scorer with 11 goals and 24 assists in 35 games. One of his more recent highlights: the game-tying goal in the third period of Friday's Midwest Regional semifinal against Notre Dame, skating into open space and snapping a wicked one-timer to the stick side and into the net.
The Blue Jackets’ first pick at No. 8 overall in 2015 now has a decision to make: does he return to school for a junior season and rekindle his pursuit of a national championship, or does he turn pro and sign his first contract with Columbus?
If he decides to go the latter route, his entry-level contract will slide to 2016-17 unless he plays 10 NHL games this season.