Michigan loses top defenseman Werenski to Columbus organization

Michigan’s Zach Werenski had a breakout season in 2015-16 and is now off to the professional ranks in the Columbus system (photo: Daryl Marshke/UM Photography).

Michigan sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski has signed an AHL amateur tryout contract with the Lake Erie Monsters, the top affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and will leave the Wolverines and give up his last two years of collegiate eligibility.

“It’s exciting,” said Werenski in a news release. “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.”

Werenski, drafted by Columbus in the first round (eighth overall) of the 2015 NHL draft, compiled 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points in 36 games this past season. He leaves Michigan with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) in 71 games. As the youngest player in college hockey last season, Werenski notched 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 35 games and earned All-Big Ten First Team and All-Freshman Team honors.

“Before I arrived at Michigan, Coach [Red] Berenson told me and my dad that coming here would be the best decision I ever made and I agree with him,” Werenski added. “It was hands down the best decision I ever made.”

This season, Werenski led all Big Ten defensemen in scoring and was second in the nation among blueliners in points. Named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-Big Ten selection, Werenski was at his best in Michigan’s biggest games at the end of the season, finishing the year with a seven-game point streak (four goals, 10 assists). He was named to the NCAA Midwest All-Region team after notching the game-tying goal in a 3-2 overtime win against Notre Dame on March 25 and recording an assist against North Dakota on Saturday.

He also served as captain of bronze medal-winning Team USA at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships, tallying two goals and nine points in seven games and earning the Directorate Award as the tournament’s top defenseman.

“The main thing I’m going to remember is how great it was and how well treated we were at Michigan,” Werenski concluded. “This school, the education, the people here, it was such a great opportunity. It’s hard talking about it because you don’t want it to be over, but it was such a great experience. It’s probably going to be at the top of my list of my hockey experiences so far. I’ll leave with all positives in my mind.”

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