The Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday signed defenseman Zachary Werenski to a three-year entry-level contract, the team announced.
"Zach Werenski is a tremendous young man and a very talented player who is going to be an important part of our organization for many years and we're excited about him taking this first step in his professional career," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told the Blue Jackets website.
The contract begins with the 2016-17 season. Werenski, the eighth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, will spend the rest of this season playing for Lake Erie of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout contract.
"They have a good team in Lake Erie and he's going to make them better," Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch. "They have a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs and that's a great experience for anybody, but especially an 18-year-old getting his first taste of the pro game."
Werenski has played the past two seasons for the University of Michigan, and had 20 goals and 61 points in 71 games. He served as captain for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship; he had two goals and nine points in seven games to help the U.S. win the bronze medal and was named the tournament's top defenseman.
"It's exciting," Werenski said in a statement released by Michigan. "I've worked for this for a long time, and now that time is finally here. I'm extremely grateful for the chance to play at Michigan and without my experience here I don't think I'd be the player I am today."