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Prospect Update: Olen Zellweger
By Thomas Harrington
Anaheim’s second round pick from 2021, defenseman Olen Zellweger, finished his WHL career, playing for both the Everett Silvertips and Kamloops Blazers.
Zellweger started the season as an alternate captain for Everett where he scored 10 goals and 28 points in 23 games. In January he was traded to Kamloops, along with forward Ryan Hofer, for Drew Englot, Kaden Hammell, Rylan Pearce, Jack Bakker, four first round picks, two second round picks, a third round pick, a fourth round pick, a fifth round pick and a sixth round pick. Despite the mid-season trade, Zellweger still finished seventh in scoring on Everett. With his new team, Zellweger found another gear, scoring 22 goals and 52 points in 32 games. Overall, the young defenseman scored 32 goals and 80 points in 55 games. His assist totals actually fell from the previous season, from 64 to 48, but his goal total took a huge jump from 14 to 32. He became the sixth WHL defenseman since 1997 to score 30 goals, and the first since 2017. He finished second among all defensemen in points and first in goals.
Among all WHL players, he was second in shots on goal with 345; the only player with more was Connor Bedard. He had over 100 more shots on goal than the next closest defenseman. Kamloops had a loaded roster, but he still finished eighth on the team in scoring and led the defense in goals. He was named to the WHL First All-Star Team and to the CHL First All-Star Team. Zellweger was named the WHL Defenseman of the Year for the second year in a row and was then named the CHL Defenseman of the Year, beating out fellow Anaheim prospects Pavel Mintyukov and Tristen Luneau.
Zellweger carried his strong play into the playoffs, scoring 11 goals and 29 points in just 14 games. He finished second in points and third in goals among all skaters in the postseason. He finished second in shots on goal with 92, but the player he finished behind only had 10 more and in five more games. The next closest defenseman had 58 shots on goal and also played in five more games than Zellweger. Kamloops made it to the third round of the playoffs where they lost to the Seattle Thunderbirds in six games. He scored three goals and seven points in a game against Portland in the second round, tying the record for most points by a defenseman in the WHL in a playoff game. In April, he was named the WHL Player of the Month after scoring 21 points in nine games. Despite losing in the playoffs, Kamloops still qualified for the Memorial Cup as the host of the tournament. They finished third in the tournament, and Zellweger scored a goal and four points in four games. He was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team.
After a truly dominant performance for Team Canada at the 2022 World Junior Championships, there was never a question of whether Zellweger would make Team Canada’s roster. The question was, how would he follow it up? In terms of offensive numbers, his production actually dropped, from two goals and 11 points in seven games to six assists in seven games. The six assists were tied for eighth in the tournament and third among defensemen. While his offense took a bit of a step back, he was counted on even more than the previous year, playing in all situations and playing over 30 minutes in the quarterfinals against Slovakia. Zellweger also played over 28 minutes in the gold-medal game. He was Canada’s top defenseman and one of the best defensemen at the World Juniors.
I had three expectations for Zellweger a season ago, and he was able to hit two of them. First, I figured his assist totals would fall off a little bit, but I was still hoping for him to average at least an assist per game. While he missed this, he still averaged nearly 0.9 assists per game, so it wasn’t a big miss. Second, I wanted his goal total to increase and approach the 20 goal mark. Well, he shattered that with 32 goals. Finally, I wanted him to play at the World Juniors again, which he did, and he was once again one of Canada’s best players.
Zellweger will be turning pro this year, and while it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in San Diego, I also think he could make his NHL debut as well. A quick glance at capfriendly.com will show how thin the Ducks really are on defense. Even with the moves they’ve made this summer, there’s still room for at least a prospect or two to get some playing time, and Zellweger should be one of the ones battling for time in Anaheim.
I have a few expectations for Zellweger this coming season, but they’ll be based on him playing in San Diego. I’m not ready to make him playing in the NHL an expectation for him right now. First, to see significant powerplay time with San Diego. Second, to play in the team’s top four consistently throughout the season. Third, to adjust to the pro game and get better as the season goes along. Finally, to continue to put up a significant number of shots on goal.
Zellweger’s three-year entry-level contract will begin this year, and he’ll be a restricted free agent when it’s over. Ever since being drafted in 2021, he’s become one of Anaheim’s most exciting prospects. As long as he continues to develop over the next few years, the Ducks will be re-signing him. The question comes down to if it will be a long-term deal, a bridge deal, or a two-way deal for a year or two.
The next and final prospect update will be on defenseman Pavel Mintyukov.
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September 18th, 2023