Fast tracking your way through the ranks to get to the NCAA circuit is becoming more commonplace for NHL prospects. Zach Werenski of the Michigan Wolverines joined Noah Hanifin in accelerating his path to the NCAA. The result has made him an exciting prospect in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Werenski was arguably the Wolverines' best and most consistent defenceman this season. Despite this season being his first in college hockey, he was a difference maker for Michigan from the blueline. Offensively, he chipped in with nine goals and 25 points in 35 games. This production came in addition to his role as a key transition player for the Wolverines. He was named to the B1G All-Rookie team as well as the B1G First All-Star Team.
Internationally, Werenski represented the United States at the 2015 World Juniors this past winter. In five games for the Americans he recorded a goal and an assist.
At 17 years old, Werenski is an adept puck handler ho fits the bill of a two-way defenceman. Many have argued that of the top defencemen in this draft class, he is actually the best with the puck on his stick. At 6-foot-2, 212 pounds has an NHL-ready frame that could transition to the pro game.
The primary knocks on Werenski's game are on the defensive side of the puck. Scouts would typically like to see a player with his size and strength be more aggressive physically and rough up opponents in the defensive zone. There are also growing pains to be expected with his ability to maintain gaps on opponents, particularly as he adjusts to a faster brand of game. The good news is these are skills that can be learned.
Expect Werenski to be selected among the first dozen players on June 26.