The Everett Silvertips’ Olen Zellweger maneuvers around a Vancouver Giants defender during a strong first period for the Silvertips in the first round of the WHL playoffs Friday, April 22, 2022, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Ducks send star defenseman Zellweger back to Silvertips

The 19-year-old standout and reigning WHL Defenseman of the Year should provide Everett with a huge boost.

EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips are getting their star player back for the 2022-23 season, and they’re getting him back much earlier than expected.

Olen Zellweger, the reigning WHL Defenseman of the Year, is on his way back to Everett after being reassigned by the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.

Zellweger, a 19-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, is coming off a season in which he registered 14 goals and 64 assists in 55 games for Everett en route to winning the Bill Hunter Trophy as the league’s top blueliner. He then went on to star for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in August, posting two goals and nine assists in seven games as Canada claimed the gold medal.

Zellweger was selected in the second round of the 2021 NHL draft by Anaheim, and he was considered a legitimate contender to make the rebuilding Ducks for the upcoming season — because he was drafted out of the WHL he’s only eligible to play his 19-year-old season in either the NHL or WHL, not in the minors.

Zellweger seemed to reinforce his NHL credentials during his two preseason appearances with the Ducks. He averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time, saw extensive time on both the power play and penalty kill, and produced a highlight-reel assist on what proved to be Ryan Strome’s game-winning goal in Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

It was believed Zellweger would at least get into some regular season games with Anaheim before being sent back to Everett, as players are allowed to appear in up to nine games before the first year of their entry-level contracts kick in. However, the offseason acquisitions of defensemen John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov appear designed to give Zellweger, who’s on the small side at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, another year of physical development at the junior level.

Getting Zellweger back is a boon for Everett. The Tips lost a big chunk of the team that won the U.S. Division championship last season. But now the Tips have both of their co-MVPs back in Zellweger and leading goals scorer Jackson Berezowski, meaning Everett is better equipped to compete in what’s expected to be a strong division.

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