It seems like the Leafs have some sort of reported interest in every prospect near the top of the 2015 draft class.
Reports have surfaced that the Leafs have interest in not one but all of Mitch Marner, Ivan Provorov, Mathew Barzal, and most recently Mikko Rantanen, who the team reportedly flew into Toronto following the NHL Scouting Combine. Presumably, top picks Noah Hanifin and Dylan Strome are also in the conversation.
But there's one player, ranked sixth (ahead of Barzal and Provorov) on my top 60 prospects ranking for McKeen's Hockey that hasn't been mentioned in connection with the Leafs (yet): Zach Werenski.
After a near-perfect calendar year for Werenski, including a breakout performance with the University of Michigan as an accelerated freshman and a standout performance with the United States at the World Juniors, there's little doubt as to just how talented Weresnki is.
To sweeten the pot, Werenski expressed that if the team that drafts him would prefer he played junior hockey that he would commit to the London Knights, the team that drafted him in 2013 and the stomping ground for current Leafs GM candidate Mark Hunter and amateur scout Lindsay Hofford.
If he does commit to London, Werenski will join an extremely gifted 2015-2016 Knights team that has recently recruited fellow top American prospects Max Jones and Matthew Tkachuk.
Werenski, who is a lesser skater than his American counterpart Hanifin and less physical than Provorov, might still be the most offensively gifted of the trio.
This year, with the offensively potent Wolverines, Werenski finished first on the team in scoring among defenders with 25 points, including an impressive nine goals, in 35 games.
In fact, his production with the Wolverines outmatched several high profile teammates, including Buffalo Sabres prospect J.T. Compher (a forward) and Florida Panthers prospect defender Michael Downing.
Werenski played big minutes as an NCAA rookie, including on the top powerplay unit, where he accumulated many of his points on route to his All-Big Ten Hockey First Team selection.
While Werenski might be the most offensively gifted player in the class, he's also incredibly smart and picks his spots effectively. His long stride works to his advantage when he's hopping into the rush and his shot is lethal in the same way Provorov's is.
He doesn't have the heaviest slapshot, but it finds it's way through and his snapshots are among the most dangerous in the class in the high slot.
Notice the way he cuts to the inside and utilizes his quick wrist shot, one you'd expect from a winger not a defensemen, off the rush.
And again, notice how Wereksni finds high blocker side with a wrister, where most defenders would use a quick half slap shot along the ice or a full wind up to get the puck in hard and high, here.
There are few defenders on the planet who can shoot with a heavy quick release off the rush (the first video) or get a puck on net with enough speed without shooting it high on a stationary wrist shot from the point (the second video).
What makes Werenski special is that the strong, accurate, heavy wrist shot isn't all he has in his offensive arsenal.
Unafraid to carry the puck, Werenski often switches with offensive zone wingers in order to stickhandle and create in the offensive zone on his own, especially on the powerplay.
Defensively, he's a head-up, stable option who makes smart decisions. And while he can sometimes fall prone to rushing under pressure, it's not an uncommon trait among young defensemen.
Like both Hanifin and Provorov, Werenski's left handedness would give the Leafs three young defensemen who can skate and move the puck on the left side, joining Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly.
While Werenski is likely not in the cards at fourth overall, if the Leafs are to move back and their target (Ivan Provorov, per se) is taken sooner than they anticipated, Werenski's a fallback option that could be the best player available (BPA) if the Leafs are selecting for the Flyers at seventh overall or the Avalanche at 10th overall, two teams that might shop their picks.