Zellweger set to cap roller-coaster season with draft day
In a roller-coaster year, Olen Zellweger of the Everett Silvertips is on the climb.
But it was a slow, patient build.
Zellweger, not unlike the majority of his fellow 2021 NHL Draft eligibles, had a tough 14 months to get to this point.
“It was obviously difficult for me and I know a lot of players and my team, to have our season cut short,” Zellweger, No. 26 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2021 draft, told FCHockey. “A promising team we had last year looking to make a good run in playoffs. That was hard to face, but I think looking back, our team and me personally, we made really good progress over the offseason and took advantage of that time to really work on my weaknesses and continue to grow my strengths. I think my skating and my offseason strength and conditioning really took another jump and it allowed me to take advantage of this season.”
Jump Zellweger did.
Both in productivity, and draft prowess.
The Fort Saskatchewan, AB product entered the season as a long shot to be in first-round consideration. He left the shortened 2019-20 season with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 58 games as a depth piece in Everett.
He entered this year as a key cog.
“I think I took a jump in my skating and skill,” Zellweger said. “I think I had those abilities last year, but I think the confidence and opportunity that I earned really allowed me to showcase those skills. That confidence was obviously big and earning those opportunities to play with good players and on the power play really helped me.”
Surprisingly, so too did the time away from the rink — nearly a calendar year.”I have a good training setup here at home,” Zellweger said. “It’s a shooting area and stuff like that. I put in a lot of time in that area and really tried to work on my skills, stickhandling and stuff like that. In terms of conditioning, you can make it work. There’s lots of things you can do like running. I’m fortunate to have a spin bike and stuff like that. I think I made good use of what I had.”When you’re away from the rink and away from your teammates and the WHL season, you just hope everything works out. It worked out pretty well for me so I’m grateful for that this year. In terms of on-ice, it’s difficult to not skate for long periods of time. It doesn’t feel that good getting out there when your edges aren’t as good as usual and stuff like that.
“But I mean, it’s nice when things finally get going again.”
Nice might be an understatement for the undersized defenseman.
Zellweger shredded the Western Hockey League’s US Division to the tune of 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 11 games — surpassing his point total in a fraction of action.
“I think going into last season I wanted to take a jump and be an impact player, but I didn’t know what I was going to be, right?” Zellweger said. “I just went there and did the best I could in the shortened training camp as well and I think it set me up well. I came in there and really took that step. It was a transition I made from earning more ice time. I think it really helped me.”
It helped his draft stock, too.
Zellweger was outside of the opening 100 prospects ranked for the 2021 draft in the offseason, and climbed to exactly 100 in FCHockey’s Winter ranking in January. By Spring, he was slotted at No. 55.
“He was a breakout candidate as a D-1 due in part to the excellent platform skills he possesses and the dynamic base to his skating and skill-game,” Justin Froese, FCHockey’s head Western scout, said. “He has the ability to multitask and reads ice proactively which has allowed him to show growth as an efficient defender and became a key offensive minded player for the Silvertips.
“His thought process displays proactivity, adaptability and accountability. The growth is noticeable as he kept getting more stacked on his plate and has boosted his stock.”
Improvement, at both ends, was a goal for Zellweger.
“I think offensively, I showed some good skills,” he said. “That was obviously good for me, in the offensive zone. But I do think my defensive game and my two-way in terms of transition and stuff like that and defending rushes, took a big jump. I think my skating allowed me to be in those positions and shut down those attackers.
“It was good for me to play against other teams better players and get that experience.”
He got more of that high-level experience on the international stage.
Zellweger’s WHL season was cut short to join Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. His performance at the tournament helped further push his draft stock up to 26th overall in June.
Not that it crossed his mind at the time.
“You try to not focus on the draft too much, right?” said Zellweger, who exited the tournament with eight points (one goal, seven assists) in seven games.
“It’s obviously a distraction. You’re trying to focus on your play and what you can do to win that tournament. I think putting on that Canada jersey, you have a job to do out there and you’ve got to execute. Especially with the group we had, we knew we were capable of winning gold. Every time we hit the ice, there was a little bit of pressure there, but you’re feeling that nervousness and stuff, that shows you’re prepared and shows you really care.
“As a group, we wanted to really win that gold medal.
“I think for me it was a solid tournament. Going there, I knew I would’ve had to earn all the ice I got and I guess that goes for every player, especially in a short event like that. I think I put my best foot forward and showed well for myself.”
Now he’s firmly fixed as a first-round candidate for the draft.
“The NHL Draft is next and my focus right now is the NHL Draft,” he said.
“But more so my training right now is the most important thing to me. I’ve got to get faster and I’ve got to take my game to another level. I want to really develop this summer again and take another step.”
Still, Zellweger will pause on the weekend of July 23rd.
“I’m just going to treat it like a regular day,” He said. “I’m going to have some family probably, if the restrictions allow for that I’ll have some family over to be with me. Without them I’m not in this position.
“That’ll be my day, I guess.
“I’ll just be waiting for the opportunity to be drafted.”
And cap his roller-coaster ride.