Top prospect Werenski signs ATO with Jackets’ farm team (Updated)

Associated Press

The Columbus Blue Jackets will be able to keep a close eye on one of their top prospects down the stretch. Defenseman Zach Werenski has signed an amateur tryout with the Jackets’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie.

“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,” Kekalainen said in a release.

The 18-year-old was Columbus’ first round pick, eighth overall, in last year’s NHL Entry Draft. He spent the last two seasons at the University of Michigan. Werenski had 11 goals and 36 points in 36 games in 2015-16.

If you’re wondering why the Blue Jackets haven’t signed their prized prospect to an entry-level contract, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has your answer.

Blue Jackets beat reporter Aaron Portzline also weighed in:

The exact details of an expansion draft haven’t been finalized yet, but there’s been talk of any player with two seasons of pro hockey under their belt having to be protected. If Werenski were to sign an entry-level contract today, that means he’d have this year and next year under his belt if an expansion draft were to occur before the 2017-18 season.

UPDATE: Werenski has, as expected, signed his three-year, entry-level deal with Columbus. It will kick in next season, and he will stick with Lake Erie for the remainder of this year.