Ducks Prospect Shining in WHL Playoffs

Olen Zellweger was drafted with the second pick in the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks. That selection seemed like a bit of a reach at the time, as most major draft outlets had Zellweger projected as a third-round pick. He was seen as an explosive skater with an abundance of offensive potential though lacking the ideal size (5-10 174 lbs) desired from a typical NHL defenseman. The Ducks scouts, however, liked what they saw from the young (I do mean young. If he were born six days later, he would have been eligible for the 2022 draft) left-shot defenseman from the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and took a chance on him at the top of the second round. 

Since his draft selection, Zellweger has done nothing but reward the Anaheim organization and has spent the last two seasons electrifying the world of major junior hockey providing the two most productive seasons (on a per-game basis) by a WHL defenseman in the last 30 years. During that time, he also added two World Junior Championship gold medals for Team Canada in 2022 and 2023 to the U-18 one he won in 2021. As impressive a player as Olen Zellweger is, it’s clear he saves his best hockey for the biggest stages and is now amid an epic WHL playoff run for the Kamloops Blazers on their quest for a Memorial Cup (tournament including the champions of the three Canadian Hockey League victors and the tournament host).

How He Got Here

In 2021-22, Zellweger had an excellent season for the Silvertips, scoring 78 points (14 goals and 64 assists in 55 games) and nine points in six playoff games. He even tallied an assist in his lone playoff game for the San Diego Gulls of the AHL after signing an ATO (amateur tryout) contract. He finished the season playing in the August World Junior Championship tournament, finishing third in scoring as his Team Canada squad won their gold medal. 

The 2022-23 season didn’t start with quite the same jaw-dropping pop that the prior one had for Olen. The Everett Silvertips found themselves lower in the standings with a less talented roster than the one they iced in the year before. Zellweger shouldered more responsibility on both ends of the ice and was shooting the puck (345 SOG by the end of the season) more than anyone in the WHL not named Connor Bedard (360 SOG). His production was still very respectable (10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points in 23 games) in Everett, but it wasn’t the jump in production that was hoped for. He even took a step back in production at the 2023 World Junior Championships only (only, lol) six points (all assists) in seven games. It’s important to note that Zellweger was still impacting games greatly with his offensive ability, even if the scoresheets didn’t reflect it (they soon would), and he was playing phenomenal two-way hockey. 

On January 8th, 2023, Zellweger was the main prize in one of the biggest trades in CHL history. Zellweger (along with teammate Ryan Hofer) was traded from the Everett Silvertips to the Kamloops Blazers for a package that included four players and 10 draft picks (including four 1st-round picks). Kamloops is set to host the Memorial Cup tournament and will get an automatic bid, so The Blazers went out and acquired what they viewed as a missing piece to their championship puzzle. Zellweger’s numbers caught fire (pun intended) as a result. He would finish the season scoring 22 goals and adding 30 assists for 52 points in just 32 games for Kamloops. His season totals (32 goals, 48 assists, 80 points in 55 games) were the best per-game numbers from a WHL defenseman since Shane Peacock in 1992-93, and his 32 goals were the most since Ian White in 2001-02. 

As memorable and historic as Olen Zellweger’s 2022-23 regular season was, he is hitting new heights in the WHL playoffs. The Kamloops Blazers swept each of their first two playoff series. In those eight games, Zellweger has scored seven goals and fourteen assists for twenty-one points. Seven of those points came in Kamloops’ dismantling of the Portland Winterhawks by a score of 10-4 in a game four that saw Zellweger score a hat trick and tack on four assists. He truly seems to shine brightest on the biggest stage. The stage will get even bigger as the Blazers will next be taking on the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Eastern Conference Finals that start on Saturday night. Zellweger will be going head-to-head against 2022 seventh-overall NHL Draft pick Kevin Korchinski (CHI). The Thunderbirds also swept their first two series, and Korchinski was nipping at Zellweger’s heels on the WHL defenseman leaderboard with 73 points in 54 games. This will be must-watch hockey if one has the means to do so. 

What the Future Holds

Regardless of how the Blazers perform in the WHL playoffs, they have an automatic spot in the Memorial Cup as they are hosting the tournament. There, Olen Zellweger’s prolific junior hockey career will undoubtedly come to an end. He will be AHL/NHL eligible for the 2023-24 season with an eye on impressing enough to earn a spot on the Anaheim Ducks NHL roster out of training camp. 

Anaheim Ducks General Manager Pat Verbeek has revealed his desire to allow players to marinate at the AHL level before making the jump to the NHL. On Tuesday, the San Diego Gulls announced the hiring of Matt McIlvane as the team’s new head coach, and he will be focusing on player development. All signs point to Zellweger starting his professional career in the AHL, playing for McIlvane and the Gulls. Still, we all know how hungry Olen Zellweger is (rumor has it he consumes an absurd amount of calories per day). 

Olen Zellweger is one of the best pure skaters on the planet. He is smooth, powerful, and lightning-quick in all four directions. He’s strong as an ox, sublime on his edges, and can protect the puck with the very best of them. Zellweger can keep the puck on a string with some of the softest and fastest hands on the planet. He’s incredibly active on the rush and in the offensive zone while showing an innate ability to attack the dangerous areas of the ice with or without the puck. He can overpower goaltenders with his shot, pick corners at will, and find sticks in front for deflections. He is clinical, cerebral, and has all the tools of an elite NHL offensive-defenseman. 

In the past, Zellweger has had some fundamental defensive issues to iron out. He’s cheated for offense in the defensive zone away from the puck, attempting to leave the zone before a teammate has won a battle. He has also lost his assignments in defensive-zone coverage and misplayed the body on attacking puck carriers. He is very good in the neutral zone at killing a rush by timing his pressures aggressively. He has the skating ability to make up for a slight misread which allows him to take more calculated risks while defending. If those details are ironed out, he will be in the NHL sooner than later. All indications are that he is a competitive young man, and nothing we’ve seen from him has given any reason to question that. 

We are all aware of the bright future in Anaheim, and Zellweger will be a major piece of the team’s contending puzzle. He has continued to study, grow, and develop his game as each year has gone by with no sign of slowing. The day he puts on a Ducks sweater for an NHL game will be a day long remembered in Orange County.

Episode 46: The Crone-Zone Late Arrivals: An Anaheim Ducks Podcast

On this impromptu episode of LAP, the guys talk about Pat Verbeek finding his guy in Greg Cronin. They cover some of the ideology and culture Cronin brings to the table with his 36 years of experience as a coach. They also continue to give Pat Verbeek the praise he deserves and finish things with listener questions!Follow Late Arrivals Twitter: @latearrivalspodInstagram: @latearrivalspodFollow the hostsChris: @CJKChelConnor: @91_PlutyJake: @_JRobles71Louis: @Louiex37 Intro/ Outro done by Will Rice/ @pastorwillrice
  1. Episode 46: The Crone-Zone
  2. Episode 45: Out On Main
  3. Episode 44: Oh Rats!
  4. Episode 43: Lets Get Silly
  5. Episode 42: LAP Knows Ball(s)

Patrick Present

Inside the Rink writer for @latearrivalspod

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