BUFFALO -- University of Michigan defenseman Zachary Werenski is one of three college freshmen competing in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game hoping to hear his name called in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26.
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound left-handed shot joins center Jack Eichel (Boston University) and defenseman Noah Hanifin (Boston College) as legitimate first-year collegians with plenty to offer NHL scouts. Werenski will play for Team Mike Grier, alongside Eichel. Hanifin will play for Team Ed Olczyk.
The decision to attend Michigan was a long thought-out process, but in the end Werenski took his time before ultimately committing to coach Red Berenson. He was selected in the second round (No. 24) by the London Knights in the 2013 Ontario Hockey League draft and wanted to exhaust all options before making a final decision.
"I fell in love with [Michigan] right away but wasn't committed until I looked at all the options; I didn't want to commit to something and change my mind and de-commit," Werenski said. "I wanted to stay true to my word, and once I knew Michigan was right for me I made that commitment and wasn't looking back."
Werenski said a conversation he had with Michigan assistant coach Brian Wiseman sparked the idea of accelerating his studies in order to enter the school this fall. He did that, spending all summer taking online courses before committing to Michigan on July 17.
"I saw coach Wiseman at a rink on a trip with USA Hockey and he made mention of possibly accelerating my schooling since they would like me to play this season," Werenski said. "At first my dad and me didn't think it would work since I was a whole year behind. But we looked more into it and I talked with my parents, my brother, and we thought it was the best decision for me to go play at Michigan. I talked to counselors at high school and they helped out and put together a schedule in the summer that would help me graduate early, and that's how it worked."
The Wolverines have three NHL prospects returning to the blue line this season in Michael Downing (Florida Panthers), Brennan Serville (Winnipeg Jets) and Nolan De Jong (Minnesota Wild), so there is a spot for Werenski among the team's top six if he impresses.
That's his intention.