Even though defenseman Zach Werenski was the youngest player in the NCAA in 2014-15, he was considered one of the best at his position.
Werenski, who graduated from high school a year early and became the youngest freshman to enroll at the University of Michigan under 75-year-old head coach Red Berenson, is ranked No. 9 among North American Skaters per the NHL’s Central Scouting Service. He joins fellow college prospect Noah Hanifin as another NCAA defenseman likely to be selected in the top 10 of the 2015 NHL Draft.
“Zach is a great puck-handler and a very good skater,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes head of amateur scouting. “He can go get it, make the first pass and skate it out. All of those things you are looking for in today’s NHL defenseman.”
As a 17-year old, Werenski had a breakout freshman campaign. The Grosse Pointe, MI, native paced all Big Ten defensemen with nine goals. His 25 points (9g, 16a) in 35 games ranked first on Michigan’s team defense and second among Big Ten blueliners. Werenski, who posted the most points and goals by a University of Michigan freshman defenseman since Jacob Trouba in 2012-13 (ninth overall pick in 2012), was an All-Big Ten first team and All-Rookie Team selection.
|HOMETOWN: GROSSE POINTE, MI |
|HEIGHT: 6'2" |
|WEIGHT: 206 |
|BIRTHDAY: JULY 19, 1997 (AGE 17) |
Three of Werenski’s nine goals were scored on the powerplay, which ranked first among team defensemen.
“He’s a pretty solid guy on the power play,” MacDonald said. “He’s a good distributor of the puck.”
The 6-foot-2, 206-pound defenseman also blocked a team-high 59 shots in the 2014-15 season.
“He’s a big man and a strong guy,” MacDonald said. “When you meet him in person, it’s surprising how big he is.”
But he is still young – he won’t turn 18 until July 19 – and that perhaps occasionally manifests itself on the ice.
“He’s got a little ways to go defensively,” MacDonald noted. “One of the differences between him and Noah Hanifin, for example, is that Hanifin is a much more accomplished defender.
“He’ll remain at Michigan, I would think, for another year, unless someone wanted to get him started,” MacDonald added.
Before enrolling at the University of Michigan, Werenski competed in the United States National Team Development Program and was roommates with Hanifin. Werenski finished second among U-17 team defensemen in scoring with 27 points (7g, 20a) in 47 games. The two blueliners were then reunited at the 2015 World Junior Championship, in which Werenski had a goal, an assist and a plus-5 rating in five tournament games.
Now, Werenski is poised to join Hanifin again as top defensive selections in the first round on June 26.
“He’s one of the real good defensemen,” MacDonald said of Werenski. “He’s in that top-three grouping of defensemen, and someone is going to get a very good defender there.”