Olen Zellweger (48) takes down the Kamloops Blazers’ Luke Toporowski during a game Feb. 12, 2022, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. The Everett Silvertips traded Zellweger and fellow standout Ryan Hofer in to Kamloops in a massive deal on Sunday. (Kristin Ostrowski / Everett Silvertips)

Olen Zellweger (48) takes down the Kamloops Blazers’ Luke Toporowski during a game Feb. 12, 2022, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. The Everett Silvertips traded Zellweger and fellow standout Ryan Hofer in to Kamloops in a massive deal on Sunday. (Kristin Ostrowski / Everett Silvertips)

‘It’s bittersweet’: Tips building towards future after blockbuster trade

Everett general manager Dennis Williams said it was a difficult decision to deal stars Olen Zellweger and Ryan Hofer to Kamloops.

Dennis Williams called it a bittersweet moment.

The Everett Silvertips general manager made the difficult decision to say goodbye to arguably the team’s two best players, players Everett brought into the WHL and helped develop into among the league’s best.

But Williams decided the long-term health of the organization had to be the priority.

Williams pulled off one of the biggest trades in WHL history Sunday night, sending reigning WHL Defenseman of the Year Olen Zellweger and star center Ryan Hofer to the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for a huge package that included four players and 10 WHL prospects draft picks, four of which were first rounders.

“It’s bittersweet,” Williams said Monday. “I had to take a good long look at where we are at. Those two guys were obviously big pieces to the team over the last three or four years, so it’s never easy.”

The full trade saw Everett send the 19-year-old Zellweger and 20-year-old Hofer to the Blazers in exchange for two roster players in 20-year-old forward Drew Englot and 17-year-old defenseman Kaden Hammell; two prospects in 17-year-old defenseman Rylan Pearce and 15-year-old forward Jack Bakker; nine draft picks that include four first rounders (2023, 2024, 2025, 2026), a second rounder (2023), a third rounder (2025), a fourth rounder (2023), a fifth rounder (2024) and a sixth rounder (2026); and one conditional second rounder (2026).

It is the biggest trade in franchise history. It’s also the first time Everett, which is sitting at .500 with an 18-18-1-0 record, has been a true seller at the trade deadline in the organization’s 20 seasons. Kamloops was willing to make a huge splash because the Blazers are hosting this year’s Memorial Cup and therefore have an automatic berth into the CHL’s championship tournament.

“You see where the team is at — and what other teams are doing plays a big part, too,” Williams said. “When teams like Seattle are loading up (the U.S. Division-rival Thunderbirds are the top-ranked team in the CHL and continue to make big additions to their roster), you think maybe this is the year to offset things and replenish some draft picks, which is something we’ve never done. This puts the organization in a good spot going forward, and it puts Zellweger and Hofer in a good spot, too.”

Zellweger is one of the greatest players in Everett franchise history. The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, was a second-round pick in the 2018 prospects draft, and he was a standout from the moment he arrived as a 16-year-old rookie in 2019. In 148 games with the Tips he racked up 28 goals and 103 assists, and he became the first Everett player to win the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the WHL Defenseman of the Year after tallying 14 goals and 64 assists in 55 games last season. This season he had 10 goals and 18 assists in 23 games with Everett, and he just helped Canada win the gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships, the second time he claimed World Juniors gold. He was selected in the second round of the 2021 NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks.

While Zellweger is the headliner of the deal, Hofer is no throw-in. The 6-foot-3, 192-pound Winnipeg, Manitoba, native, who was added to Everett’s protected list as an undrafted player in 2020, had 54 goals and 49 assists in 125 games over three seasons with the Tips. This season he had 23 goals and 13 assists in 36 games while also being a top defensive forward. He was taken in the sixth round of the 2022 NHL draft by the Washington Capitals.

“They’ve meant so much,” Williams said about Zellweger and Hofer. “They’ve taken different paths. Olen was here as a young player and developed into one of the best his age in the world. He’s been a staple in the community and in the locker room, he has high character, and he leads by example. Hofer came to us as a listed player and has had to earn everything he’s gotten. He’s a bit of a throwback in how he plays, he’s an honest player who comes at you hard, goes to the blue paint and does everything right. They both have been a joy to coach, never once in my time did I ever have to get on either player to work harder in practice or a game. They’re great young men with high character. It was a tough day.”

While it may have been a tough day, it may lead to many good days in the future as Everett now possesses a wealth of high picks in each of the next four drafts. As for the players received in return, Williams said Hammell was the key. The Langley, B.C., native, who measures in at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, is a right-shot defenseman who’s rated as a “B” prospect for the 2023 NHL draft by NHL Central Scouting. Hammell is expected to be a key component of Everett’s defense both now and in the future.

Williams wasn’t done wheeling and dealing with the blockbuster. On Monday he flipped Englot to Swift Current in exchange for 20-year-old forward Raphael Pelletier and a second-round pick in 2024. Pelletier, a native of Legal, Alberta, is in his fourth season in the WHL. The 5-foot-11, 164-pounder has 11 goals and 17 assists in 34 games this season.

Williams then acquired 17-year-old prospect forward Nolan Chastko from Prince George in exchange for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2025. Chastko, from Brandon, Manitoba, is playing for the Virden Oil Capitals of the MJHL, with whom the 5-foot-8, 146-pounder has 10 goals and 14 assists in 29 games.

Finally, Williams sent 19-year-old defenseman Jacob Hoffrogge to Edmonton in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2025. Hoffrogge, a 5-foot-11, 160-pounder from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who was acquired from Brandon last offseason, had two goals and two assists in 23 games with the Tips.

And Williams still has time to swing more deals as the trade deadline is Tuesday.

While Everett was a seller, Williams said the target remains fourth place in the Western Conference. The Tips, who have never missed the playoffs, are one of four teams that are clustered within three points of one another for the fourth position, which would have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

“I expect us to compete for home ice,” Williams said. “We had that talk this morning. I always tell the guys that the first half is all about development and the second half is about investment in the club and winning. We’re still a little banged up, but once we get healthy I like where our group is at. Missing those two pieces will have an effect, but we have to have a next-man-up mentality. Right now there’s a big battle for the fourth spot and we control our own destiny. If we play to our potential — knowing the other teams are good hockey teams — we can put ourselves in a good position.”

Three stars of the week

Third star: Ben Hemmerling. The 18-year-old winger appeared in two of Everett’s three games during the week, totalling a goal and two assists. His goal just happened to be the overtime winner in Wednesday’s 3-2 victory at Kamloops.

Second star: Tyler Palmer. The 19-year-old goaltender showed why Everett acquired him as he earned his first two wins as a Silvertip, making several big saves in the process. He got the nod in all three of Everett’s games and compiled a 2.00 goals against average and .927 save percentage while going 2-1.

First star: Hofer. In his final week as a Silvertip, Hofer gave Everett a going-away present as he was a man among boys in Everett’s two victories (including Friday’s 4-2 victory at Prince George), racking up three goals and two assists while going 34-for-47 in the faceoff circle. His all-around play will be missed.

The week ahead

In a case of appropriate timing, Everett’s first home game following the trade deadline comes Friday when the Tips host none other than the Kamloops Blazers, meaning it will be a quick return home for Zellweger and Hofer. The additions of Zellweger and Hofer give Kamloops (22-8-4-2) an even more stacked lineup behind 19-year-old star forward Logan Stankoven (18 goals, 28 assists).

Prior to that Everett heads to Spokane on Wednesday. The Chiefs (7-26-1-2) are in last place in the Western Conference. The Tips won the previous two meetings this season, though the teams haven’t met since November 27. Nineteen-year-old forward Chase Bertholet (16 goals, 25 assists) is Spokane’s top player.

Everett finishes the week at home Saturday against Tri-City. The Americans (17-16-2-1), who are tied with Everett for fifth place in the conference, are 2-3 against the Tips this season. Tri-City is led by 17-year-old defenseman Lukas Dragicevic (nine goals, 37 assists) and 19-year-old forward Parker Bell (16 goals, 27 assists).

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