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2015 NHL Draft: Zach Werenski leads 16 Big Ten players drafted

Only Hockey East (23) had more players drafted. Five of the six Big Ten teams were represented in this past weekend's NHL Draft.

Michigan defenseman Zach Werenski went eighth overall to Columbus on Friday.
Michigan defenseman Zach Werenski went eighth overall to Columbus on Friday.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Since 2012 no college team has had as many NHL Draft first round picks as Michigan. The Wolverines have four in the last three years with sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski and incoming freshman forward Kyle Connor joining the ranks Friday.

The duo are two of 16 players with Big Ten ties to be drafted by NHL teams this weekend. Five of the six conference teams had at least one player drafted, led by Michigan's six and Minnesota and Wisconsin each having four. Only Hockey East (23) had more players drafted.

Most of the players in this past weekend's two-day NHL Draft are incoming freshmen. Two played for Big Ten teams last year, including Werenski. Three are not expected until the 2016-17 season.

Werenski became the highest-ever drafted player with Big Ten ties when the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him eighth overall. The 17 year-old, who accelerated his senior year of high school to play for Michigan, heavily contributed from the blue line as the Wolverines came within a game of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. He was the third defenseman taken overall, chosen higher than previous Michigan first round picks Jacob Trouba (9th in 2012) and Dylan Larkin (15th in 2014).

Red Berenson's team has had the first Big Ten player picked all three years.

With Boston University's Jack Eichel going second overall to Buffalo Sabres and Boston College's Noah Hanifin going fifth to Carolina Hurricanes, 2015 was the first time three current NCAA players were taken in the top 10.  (4 players with college ties were among the top-7 picks in 2006, but only 2 of those were current players.)

Whether Werenski returns to Ann Arbor will be interesting to watch over the next couple months. His OHL rights are owned by the London Knights and the Blue Jackets have a good relationship with the major junior powerhouse.

Despite being the home of Wolverines rival Ohio State, Columbus does not have many collegians among its prospects although an exception is Minnesota sophomore Ryan Collins (2nd round in 2014). Last year's Blue Jackets first round pick, Sonny Milano, defected from a Boston College commitment late in the offseason for the OHL Plymouth Whalers. If Werenski, who was open to where he would play at the NHL Combine, did go, that would mean 4 of the 5 players chosen for the SB Nation College Hockey All-Freshman team departed after a single season.

Connor, meanwhile, was selected 17th overall by the Winnipeg Jets. He will be heading to Ann Arbor this fall after an explosive year with Youngstown (USHL) where Connor led the USHL with 80 points (34G-46A).

Three incoming players - Michigan's Brendan Warren and Minnesota's Brent Gates Jr. and Thomas Novak - were selected in the third round. One player went in the fourth round, two were selected in the fifth round, four in the sixth round and three more went in the seventh and final round.

The Jets, Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild each picked two players with Big Ten ties.

Wisconsin sophomore Cameron Hughes, who had an up and down freshman season with a struggling Badgers team, was selected by the Boston Bruins in the sixth round. Apparently learning the news on a boat in Madison, he wasn't the only Badger to end up with a happy ending. Incoming freshman goaltender Luke Opilka, a native of St. Louis who played AAA hockey there, was selected in the fifth round by his Blues.

"We think he is underrated," St. Louis Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong said of Opilka. "He ran into some difficulties at the end of the year. We think if he would have played in some of those situations, he would have gone a lot higher. 

"For us, he is a kid who competes. He is a very focused kid with good size and good athletic ability. So to get him where we got him... He is an exciting goaltender and not only that, he is a St. Louis kid. We like to take them. They fight a little harder."

Minnesota defenseman Jack Sadek had the same thing happen in the seventh round when the Lakeville, MN native heard his name called by the Wild. Penn State's Nikita Pavlychev became the first Nittany Lion to be chosen by a Pennsylvania team when the Penguins picked him in the seventh round.

56 players with college hockey ties were selected in the 2015 NHL Draft

Draft Picks By team:

Michigan:

Zach Werenski - round 1 (#8 to Columbus Blue Jackets)

Kyle Connor - round 1(#17 to Winnipeg Jets)

Brendan Warren - round 3 (#81 to Arizona Coyotes)

Joe Cecconi - round 4 (#133 to Dallas Stars)

Cooper Marody - round 6 (#158 to Philadelphia Flyers)

Nick Boka - round 6 (#171 to Minnesota Wild)

Michigan State

Mason Appleton - round 6 (#168 to Winnipeg Jets)

Minnesota

Brent Gates - round 3 (#80 to Anaheim Ducks)

Thomas Novak - round 3 (#85 to Nashville Predators)

Ryan Zuhlsdorf - round 5 (#150 to Tampa Bay)*

Jack Sadek - round 7 (#204 to Minnesota Wild)

Penn State

Nikita Pavlychev - round 7 (#197 to Pittsburgh)

Wisconsin

Luke Opilka - round 5 (146, St. Louis Blues)

Adam Parsells - round 6 (160 to San Jose)*

Cameron Hughes - round 6 (165 to Boston)

Jack Becker - round 7 (195 to Boston)*

*Expected to begin college in 2016-17

Highest Pick With Big Ten Ties

2015: Werenski, Michigan (8th overall by Columbus)

2014: Dylan Larkin, Michigan (15th overall by Detroit Red Wings)

2013: JT Compher, Michigan (35th overall by Buffalo)

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --