Zach Uens was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 4th round with the 105th pick of the draft. The former Duke and Quinte Red Devil was passed over in last year’s draft but reversed those fortunes this year after a breakout season in NCAA hockey with the Merrimack Warriors.
Uens was one of only 18 “True Freshman” defencemen in the entire NCAA which is a testament to his maturity and skill level.
Duke’s coach Derek Smith said; “Zach is a coaches dream, not only because of his skills but his hockey IQ and understanding of how important it is to maintain that team first mentality.
He is an elite skater with a heavy shot and elite puck moving skills. His ability to use his skating to close gaps and shut down plays defensively is one of his greatest attributes.”
Scott Borek, Uens’ Merrimack coach as he enters his sophomore year echoes Smith’s comments. “Zach is one of the lowest maintenance players I have ever coached. He knows what has to get done and just gets on with it and goes to work every day.”
When asked if he thought Zach should have been drafted last year Coach Borek said, “For sure he should have been drafted last year, it was a real miss by the scouts but things work out for a reason and Zach proved he deserved going a little higher this year.”
The stats support Coach Borek statements. Of all 18 “True Freshman“ defenceman, (true freshman meaning fresh out of high school in their 18th year) Uens was second in NCAA defenceman scoring among those true freshman with 4 goals and 14 assists. Of those 18 all but 4 had been previously drafted in last year’s draft including a number of first and second round selections.
“The NCAA is a tough league and the transition from junior to NCAA can be difficult as you are now playing with some older guys.” Said one NHL scout who wished not to be identified. ” I was impressed with Uens as he has proven he should have been taken last year. His analytics are outstanding and his gap control was considered to be one of the best in the entire draft. He has a great opportunity to be one of those guys you draft and never trade away because he does so many things well.”
Total Sports caught up with Zach shortly after the draft.
Total Sports Staff: So how’s it feel to be a drafted NHL player?
Uens: Pretty surreal. I am at a loss for words. It really is a dream come true.
How did you find out you were drafted and how did you celebrate?
Uens: I actually was in my room watching the draft with some of my teammates. I stepped out of the room and another teammate that was not with us texted me to say congrats. It was a pretty great feeling to share it with my teammates. As for the celebration, it’s really pretty short. Enjoy the moment and get back to work tomorrow. I realize this is just the beginning and I have to earn my opportunities.”
As you reflect on this moment who do you think about that helped you along the way
Uens: “Obviously I have to thank my family. They have been really supportive and my dad has been a big influence as he coached me when I was younger. I have to really thank my Dukes coaches John Druce and Derek Smith who really instilled in me the idea of what it takes to move up the ranks and to be a professional. Steve Bancroft, my minor hockey coach, really gave me the foundation and the understanding of how to be a defenceman and how to be responsible in my own end. When I was younger I would say that skating wasn’t my strongest attribute. I owe a lot of my success for that to Chris Longo. Chris really taught me how to use my edges and how to generate power which has become a big part of my game. Finally I have to mention Jeremy Benoit. I have really focused on my nutrition and conditioning the last two years and Jeremy has been instrumental in helping me understand how to train properly and how to build towards a pro career.”
Did you know you would be drafted to Florida?
Uens: Not really. I had talked to them as well as a number of other teams. It’s always tough to tell if they really are interested. I thought my Zoom calls went well but you never really know. I remember the call with Florida well because I was pretty nervous with Chris Pronger and Bryan McCabe on the call. It was pretty cool that Bryan McCabe called me after the draft to welcome me to the organization. I hear that there are some really good opportunities for young defenceman in Florida so I am looking forward to seeing what the future brings.
So what’s next?
Uens: Back to work really. With Covid everything related to NHL development camps is up in the air. We are hoping that our Hockey East (NCAA) season starts soon, maybe in November. I need to focus on getting better and helping my teammates as we try to win a title here at Merrimack. We have a young team but we have a strong group with some talented new players. I’m looking forward to getting the season going.