There are those who say that the college game is a more well-rounded one that its junior alternatives, a league where players learn to play at both ends of the rink and are students first.
Hyperbole is great.
It is no secret that the Wolverines had a bad year on defense in 2014-15, backing its NCAA high 3.86 GPG with a team .903 SV%. Despite showing signs of underdevelopment, Zach Werenski spent his freshman campaign impressing just about everyone.
The proof, however, is in the numbers. During his freshman year, Werenski managed to be on the ice for 126 shot attempts at even strength, good for sixth on the team and second on defense behind sophomore Michael Downing.
|2014-15||35||9||16||25||80||.113||+9||4 - 8||4||4||0||3||0||1||1||0||0||--||--||0||59||.000|
The best defenseman in the draft (under the untouchable Noah Hanifin) is Ivan Provorov, the 6' machine with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL, and most rating services have Werenski just behind him as the second best defenseman in the draft. If there's a more developed and hockey-educated copy of Werenski in the draft, its Provorov.
With regards to Werenski, he still has to learn to use his body a bit more, needs more work on his vision up the ice, and needs to learn a lot more about playing off of the puck.
While all the above are teachable skills, Werenski excels in just about everything in the offensive zone, can move extraordinarily quickly for his size (6-2, 214 lbs.). He spent the entire season running the point on Michigan's powerplay, and served as the only defenseman on the roster with the ability to move the puck up the ice.
The "maturity factor" usually comes into play with defenseman, meaning most defensemen don't have the correct timing to make plays on and off the puck early on in their collegiate/junior and professional careers. While I believe that's a fading an unfair blanket statement, Werenski's patience on the puck is what's got him going as Michigan's highest pick this year.
As he makes the transition to sophomore year and beyond, he will have a lot of aspects to work on, but it'll be no secret he'll be a fantastic player in the near future.
Based on the prospect pipeline and availability in the draft, Zach Werenski will be selected definitely in the top-15. He will be drafted by Columbus, San Jose, Colorado, or Dallas, assuming Hanifin doesn't slip.
SB Nation's Blue Jackets blog, The Cannon, selected Werenski in the Draft at 8th overall. He would hypothetically join former Michigan standout Jack Johnson on the blue line.
To view SB Nation NHL's mock draft, you can visit sbnation.com/nhl-mock-draft