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Zach Werenski played for the US NTDP Under 17 team and was an alternate captain in 2013-14. Like Noah Hanifin he choose to accelerate his education last summer so that he could skip playing for the Under 18 team, and enroll early at the NCAA level. He joined the Michigan Wolverines and had an impressive freshman campaign with 9 goals and 25 points in 35 games. With a July birthdate, Werenski was the youngest player in NCAA Division 1 hockey this season. He also played for team USA at the World Junior Championships, putting up a goal and an assist in 5 games. Werenski played top four minutes at even strength, was part of the first powerplay unit, and even saw significant penalty kill time for Michigan. With the Wolverines now done in the NCAA tournament, he is eligible to join Team USA for the IIHF Under 18 World Championships.
Defense — shoots Left
Born Jul 19 1997 — Grosse Pointe, MI
Height 6.02 — Weight 190 [188 cm/86 kg]
Zach Werenski is a mobile, two-way defender. He has outstanding speed, which gives him the ability to join the rush, or pinch at the blueline and still be able to cover up defensively at the NCAA level. He has outstanding edge work and agility, giving him the ability to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes on the powerplay. His pivots are also very good, allowing to transition quickly from offence to defence or vice-versa. As a result of his strong skating, Werenski is able to cover a lot of ice. He has the power and balance to fight through checks, and win board battles.
Zach Werenski possesses high-end offensive ability with good passing skills, and strong ability to handle the puck and quarterback things from the blueline on the powerplay. Werenski is calm and poised with the puck. He has excellent stickhandling ability, which he can use to start the transition game, or to control the puck at the point on the powerplay. He has a very good slapshot, and excellent vision and passing skills. Offensively his hockey IQ is very high, and Werenski makes intelligent plays with the puck on his stick. He seems to be a step ahead of the play at times, and chooses the play that leads to the best scoring opportunity. All in, Weresnski is one of the top offensive defencemen prospects in this class.
Zach Werenski is not afraid to be physical in his own end of the rink. He can battle in the corners and works to clear the front of the net. He’s also been known to throw a hit if a forward comes down his side of the rink with his head down, though does not go out of his way and get himself caught out of position to do so. He is a strong defender, one-on-one, and off the rush. However, his overall defensive game does need some work. He can sometimes follow the puck too much, and get himself out of position as a result. He also needs some work on reading the play defensively. These things should come with maturity and coaching over the next several years though.
Werenski has the potential to be a top pairing defenceman. He may not be as NHL ready as Noah Hanifin, but ultimately he has a higher offensive upside. Hanifin though is close offensively, and better all around. Either way these two are neck and neck as the top defencemen in the draft, though I slightly favour Hanifin who is a bit further in his development at this stage. In terms of style, Zach Werenski’s game shows similarities to Keith Yandle, although again this is a style comparison and not a talent one.
Below are some videos of Werenski in action.
Come back tomorrow for the number seven player on my draft board.