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2021 NHL Draft: Olen Zellweger is one of the more fascinating defensemen this draft

One of the youngest draft eligible players, Zellweger’s rankings are all over the place.

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Portland Winterhawks v Everett Silvertips Photo by Christopher Mast/Getty Images

It’s a common bias that some really try to exploit and sometimes overcorrect when it comes to analyzing the upcoming draft class. The obsession over birthdays and where the teenager is in the proverbial development arc, can shape a lot of people’s opinions on teams selecting players.

Sometimes, it certainly works out. Such as Toronto Maple Leafs top prospect Nick Robertson slipping down into the second round despite solid production, but he was born at the last possible moment to be eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft and shortly after was seen as a steal where they were able to get him. It might be the same with Everett Silvertips blueliner Olen Zellweger.

The formal cutoff for birthdays is September 15, meaning if Zellweger was born just six days later, he would have to be the oldest player in the 2022 NHL Draft. Instead, he’s ended up here in the middle of this draft class as a talented defenseman that is just getting started on his developmental path. Although this can be a misconception — because who cares if you’re younger than everyone else if you still suck — Zellweger is displaying some immense offensive potential.

In just his shortened second season — he hasn’t even played 100 games in the WHL yet — he was able to earn 13 points in just 11 games. He followed that up with 8 points in 7 games during the U18 World Championships. The points are there and he is just a ball of fun to watch. His skating is at the top of this class and the only real issue is the lack of exposure. He joined the Silvertips last year as a depth player in his rookie season, and after that it hasn’t even been a dozen games.

Zellweger might be a steal wherever a team takes him since he seems like he’s ready to explode.

Pre-Draft Rankings

#45 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

#28 by Elite Prospects

#54 by Craig Button/TSN

#26 by FC Hockey

#47 by Scott Wheeler/The Athletic

#37 by Corey Pronman/The Athletic

What Scouts Are Saying

His posture is nearly perfect, with his hips tilted back, his chest over his knees, and the right shin angle. He collects passes and sends them in motion. He uses the dotted line through the neutral zone. And he even works in a little bit of deception from time to time to keep his opponents off-balance. He’ll immediately recognize any opportunity to lead the rush and take it.

-EliteProspects 2021 NHL Draft Guide

Zellweger had quite the coming-out party this year both in the WHL and U18 worlds, where he was one of the tournament’s most noticeable defenders game-to-game. He’s an effortless four-way skater who uses his feet to be in constant motion with and without the puck offensively, as well as to swallow up carriers in the neutral zone with tight gaps, virtually gluing himself to the hips of opposing players. He’s on the smaller side for a defenceman and he’s not a natural finisher or individual creator so much as he’s a roving distributor, but he’s also less than a week away from being eligible for the 2022 draft and he has followed one of the steeper progressions in the draft as is. The runway he has, with the rate with which he’s improving, is really exciting and makes him worth a swing in the first two rounds. He’s tremendous on his edges, he’s an escape artist, and I love his approach.

Here’s Team Canada U18 head coach Dave Barr on Zellweger: “You do not have to ask him to skate. It’s a lot easier to pull reins on a horse than to kick them in the ass all the time. He’s a very active player. And he’s willing to block shots and take hits to make plays. He can think the game fast and he can also play the game fast. He’s got good hands. He’s got great feet. He’s an Energizer Bunny out there. And he’ll go into the tough areas and take hits to make plays. He’s got that uncanny ability to get the job done.”

-Scott Wheeler, The Athletic

Zellweger was a very good all-situations player for Everett in his short WHL season and a top defenseman at the U18 worlds. His skating stands out when you watch him. He has good quickness to lead plays up ice, while also having fantastic edgework to evade pressure. He’s an undersized player, but Zellweger defends well enough due to his skating and compete, closing well on checks and working hard to win pucks. Offensively he’s not a dynamo, but he has the skill and offensive hockey sense to be a points and power-play type at higher levels, showing the instincts to find seams and make tough plays on the move. He’s also one of the youngest players in the draft. In a sentence, Zellweger projects as a second- or third-pair NHL defenseman who could be on a second power-play unit.

-Corey Pronman, The Athletic

His dynamic skating posture immediately stood out as one of his best traits, allowing him to be mobile, and explosive in all four directions. His knees and hips stay bent, while he maintains a great upright upper body, loading himself like a spring and then exploding onto pucks when the opportunity arises. He has smooth, yet incredibly quick strides that allow him to get a high rate of touches on the ice to propel him forward and often be first on pucks. This skating also allowed him to get better body positioning on pucks and often separate larger opponents from pucks that smaller, slower defenders would struggle to do.

-Dylan Galloway, FC Hockey

Would He Fit In With The Wild?

Please. This might be a desperate cry for him to get drafted here, but he would be perfect. The blue line is already losing Ryan Suter — no matter how much his offense has dried up — and the other players are only getting older. Calen Addison is certainly a nice player to have for the future, but there is simply no one like Zellweger in the Wild’s prospect pipeline.

He is a unique talent that has sky-high potential, so of course he would be an explosion of ability for the Wild to continue having a very, very, very good blue line.

Could The Wild Get Him?

With him ranked somewhere around the second round, the Wild probably can’t wait that long to get him and it’s in this weird middle ground. He might be considered a reach by some if he gets taken with the 21st or 25th overall picks, but every online scout and analyst will be going absolutely bananas and praising Minnesota for grabbing him when they pick.

It’s right in that range where some other players are available, but it’s going to be an interesting one if they really target him as someone they adore.

A Minnesota Relation

As an undersized blueliner that can skate with the wind from Western Canada, the natural connection is Jared Spurgeon. Zellweger has already been compared to the Wild captain as someone to try and emulate, so it just makes sense. If he can even come halfway to Spurgeon’s ability, that’s a real good NHL defenseman.

2021 NHL Draft Board

  1. Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  2. Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  3. Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
  4. Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  5. Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
  6. Simon Edvinsson — D, Frolunda (SHL)
  7. William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
  8. Kent Johnson — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  9. Mason McTavish — C/W, Peterborough Petes/EHC Olten (OHL/Swiss)
  10. Carson Lambos — D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
  11. Aatu Raty — C, Kärpät (Liiga)
  12. Chaz Lucius — C, USNTDP Juniors (USHL), U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  13. Cole Sillinger — C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
  14. Sasha Pastujov — LW, U.S. National U18 team (USDP)
  15. Jesper Wallstedt — G, Luleå HF (SHL)
  16. Fabian Lysell — RW, Luleå HF (SHL)
  17. Matthew Coronato — LW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
  18. Oskar Olausson — F, HV71 (HockeyAllsvenskan/Swedish)
  19. Corson Ceulemans — D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
  20. Fyodor Svechkov — C, Togliatti (VHL)
  21. Brennan Othmann — LW, EHC Olten (SL)
  22. Zach Bolduc — C, Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
  23. Xavier Bourgault — C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
  24. Olen Zellweger — D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)