Zach Werenski did not hesitate to turn pro when the opportunity presented itself.
The 18-year-old signed an entry-level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted him eighth overall in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, just a few days after his sophomore season at the University of Michigan ended in a 5-2 loss to North Dakota in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey Tournament.
In 71 career games for Michigan, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound defenseman totaled 20 goals and 61 points.
Werenski’s contract will go into effect next season, but signed an amateur tryout agreement (ATO) to spend the remainder of this year with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League, where he will get his first taste of playoffs at the pro level.
Lake Erie has seven games remaining in the regular season until the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs begins in late-April.
The Hockey Writers caught up with Werenski Saturday morning prior to playing the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont, Ill.
The Hockey Writers: “Every college player says they love playing college hockey and everything that comes with it. How difficult of a decision was it for you to turn pro after your sophomore season?”
Zach Werenski: “It was tough. Those years in Michigan were the best years of my life. When it comes to turning pro, there’s a lot that goes into it. For me, I felt like it was the best choice.”
THW: “What was it like playing under legendary head coach Red Berenson at the prestigious University of Michigan?”
ZW: “It was unbelievable. He’s been there for so long. He’s a legend in college hockey, and getting to play for him for two years was nothing short of great.”
THW: “Michigan’s CCM line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte was dominant this season. Are you looking forward to playing against them at some point in your pro career?”
ZW: “Hopefully they’re not on the same line when I play against them (laughs). It should be fun. They’re such good players. That line was so special to watch in practice and in games. If I ever get a chance to play them, I think it would be pretty fun.”
THW: “What will you miss most about playing hockey at UM?”
ZW: “The friendships you create. Our team this year was so close. Playing Justin Selman last night on Chicago — just to see him and how close we were. All the guys from the team living in a house with five of your best friends, it’s something that only happens once. I think that’s the one thing I’ll miss about playing hockey there.”
THW: “Your season ended last Saturday, so when did you make that decision to jump to pro?”
ZW: “I talked with my family about it after the World Juniors. Our decision was to just go back and finish my time with Michigan. That’s what I did. Then the season ended, and we had to make a decision pretty quick. So, Sunday I went home. We talked, and Monday morning I made the decision to turn pro.”
THW: “Did any players, either from Columbus or Lake Erie, contact you after you signed?”
ZW: “A few guys did. Boone Jenner did. Max Pacioretty shot me a text. He’s a Michigan guy, so that was pretty cool.”
THW: “You played your first pro game last night. How different is the game? I know it was just one game, and it’s a small sample size, but still.”
ZW: “It’s definitely different. There are things that are easier and things that are harder. The guys are always in the right spots. They’re such good players. It’s pretty easy with the puck to get it to them, and you can find them pretty quickly. Defensively, it’s harder because the guys are bigger and stronger. So yeah, I think it was a good game all around.”
THW: “You’ll be joining Seth Jones and Ryan Murray in the coming years on Columbus’ back-end, how special is it for you to be a part of that core for the next several years?”
ZW: “That’d be pretty sweet to have an opportunity to play next to those two. They’re pretty good players. If I ever have a chance to play with them, that’d be pretty cool.”