Graduated Prospect: Olen Zellweger

Photo: SD Gulls

By Thomas Harrington

Anaheim chose defenseman Olen Zellweger in the second round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, 34th overall. After a fantastic junior career, Zellweger started the year in the AHL, but made his NHL debut in January. He was sent back to the AHL after four games, but returned to the Ducks in March and stayed in the NHL for good. Overall, he played in 44 games for the Gulls and scored 12 goals and 37 points, while playing in 26 games for the Ducks and scoring two goals and nine points. By playing in 26 NHL games, he just passed the mark to graduate from rookie status. If he’d played in 25 or fewer games, he’d still be considered a rookie next season.

Despite playing in only 44 games, Zellweger still finished tied for fifth on points with the Gulls, and his 25 assists were also fifth. He led San Diego’s defense in goals, and finished second in assists and points to Trevor Carrick, one of the few players to play in all 72 of San Diego’s games. Among AHL rookie defensemen, he finished third in points, second in goals, and seventh in assists. Every player who finished above Zellweger played in more games, many of them in substantially more games. He was also San Diego’s representative at the AHL All-Star Game and was the AHL Rookie of the Month for February.

With the Ducks, Zellweger averaged 19:17 minutes of ice time per game. He saw a little bit of time while the Ducks were short-handed, averaging only 10 seconds per game, but saw significant time on the power play. Among defensemen to finish the year in Anaheim, only Cam Fowler and Pavel Mintyukov averaged more than his 1:45 per game. Two of his seven assists came with the man advantage. He recorded his first career assist in his first career game, and picked up his first career goal against Vancouver in March. He recorded a career high three assists against Calgary in April.

I had four expectations for Zellweger last summer, but they were all based on him playing in the AHL. I thought that he was likely to make his NHL debut, but I was not expecting him to get so many games with Anaheim. As a result, he more than passed all of these. First, I wanted him to see significant power play time with the Gulls. He led San Diego’s blueline with six goals and 19 points on the man advantage. Second, to consistently play in the Gulls’ top four. While he didn’t see a ton of time on the top pairing, he was pretty consistently used on San Diego’s second defensive pairing. Third, for him to adjust to the pro game and get better as the season went on. Given how he started the year in the AHL and finished it in the NHL, I’d say he passed this one too. Finally, I wanted him to keep shooting the puck a ton. Unfortunately, the AHL doesn’t publish shots on goal statistics, but with the Ducks, Zellweger took 34 shots in his 26 games. While those aren’t quite the numbers he put up in juniors, they are still good for a rookie defenseman.

Similar to Jackson LaCombe, Zellweger’s spot in Anaheim next season is far from assured. However, the Ducks clearly see him as part of their future on defense. He may get some games in the AHL next season, but I fully believe that Zellweger will spend most, if not all, of next season with the Ducks. He was paired primarily with Fowler to end the season, and that could be a preview of one of Anaheim’s top defensive pairs for next season.

Zellweger has two more years left on his entry-level deal. Even if he’s still playing some AHL games when the contract is over, the Ducks are going to re-sign him. If he’s still bouncing back and forth between the two leagues, it will probably be for a year or two. But if he’s been able to establish himself as an NHL regular, I think he’ll get at least a three-year deal. There’s a chance it could be longer, but that will really depend on how he develops over the next two years, and his ability to stay healthy.

The next graduated prospect will be goaltender Lukas Dostal.

Recent Articles:

Mighty Again!

Prospect Profile: Cutter Gauthier

Prospect Profile: Jan Mysak

Prospect Profile: Tomas Suchanek

Graduated Prospect: Benoit-Olivier Groulx

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June 26th, 2024


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