Zellweger’s early return gives Silvertips a boost

The reigning WHL Defenseman of the Year played Friday after returning from the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.

Olen Zellweger

Olen Zellweger

Olen Zellweger’s early return to the Everett Silvertips hit a small bump on the road.

Though Everett’s star defenseman was returned by the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks earlier than anticipated when he was sent back last week, he managed just one appearance before receiving a two-game suspension from the WHL under supplementary discipline.

But the suspension did little to dampen Everett’s enthusiasm for having Zellweger back for one more season.

”It’s obviously great to have a player like Olen back,” Everett general manager and coach Dennis Williams said via text. “He is an elite player and leader. He is a valuable piece to our program.”

Whether Zellweger would be back this season was the the No. 1 question hanging over Everett as the season began. The 19-year-old from Fort Saskatchean, Alberta, is the reigning WHL Defenseman of the Year after racking up 14 goals and 64 assists in 55 games last season. Anaheim, which selected Zellweger in the second round of the 2021 NHL draft, was thought to be seriously considering keeping Zellweger this season. Even if the Ducks returned Zellweger to Everett, it was believed Zellweger would at least play some games with Anaheim before hitting the 10-game mark that would cause his entry-level contract to kick in.

Instead, Everett has Zellweger for what amounts to a full season — minus the time he’s expected to miss when he reprises his role with Canada’s team at the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championships over the holiday season.

“We never assume when a player may be back,” Williams said when asked if Zellweger was back earlier than he expected. “Obviously Anaheim has a plan in place for Olen and his development and future.”

It’ll be one more game before Zellweger is fully back into the swing with Everett. Zellweger received his suspension because of a high hit on Ethan Ernst in Friday’s 4-2 home victory over the Tri-City Americans, which went unpenalized. Ernst left the game and did not return. The suspension meant Zellweger was unavailable Sunday’s 4-0 home victory over the Victoria Royals that kept Everett’s record perfect at 3-0-0-0.

With Zellweger back in the fold, Everett can now sort the defensive portion of its roster. The Tips currently have 10 defensemen and will likely carry a maximum of eight. One spot will be likely be decided when Everett chooses between Dylan Anderson and Aidan Sutter as its third overager — Williams said he is looking to make a decision over the next week. The Tips will also probably reassign at least one of their young defensemen, though that may not happen until 16-year-old Tarin Smith is fully recovered from a short-term injury.

Three stars of the week

Third star: Jackson Berezowski. Everett’s 20-year-old captain picked up right where he left off last season before suffering the shoulder injury that prevented him from playing in the postseason, scoring two goals in the victory over the Royals — and both came from within two feet, as is his trademark.

Second star: Braden Holt. It’s been a good start to the season for Everett’s newly-entrenched No. 1 netminder, as the 19-year-old won both games with a 1.00 goals against average and .962 save percentage. He was particularly strong during his 28-save effort against Victoria.

First star: Austin Roest. The 18-year-old winger-turned-center was in the middle of everything Everett did offensively with a goal and three assists. His twisting goal against Tri-City was the Tips’ goal of the weekend, and his feed to set up Berezowski’s first goal against the Royals was the assist of the weekend.

The week ahead

Everett’s long homestand to open the season (six games) continues with two more games at Angel of the Winds Arena this weekend.

On Friday the Tips host their first Eastern Conference opponent since February 19, 2020 when the Medicine Hat Tigers come to town. Medicine Hat (1-2-0-0) is coming off a season in which it had the WHL’s worst record and scored the league’s fewest goals, both by some margin. But the Tigers are off to a fast start offensively this season behind 18-year-old forward Oasiz Wiesblatt (four goals) and 17-year-old forward Andrew Basha (two goals, five assists). Medicine Hat also features a former Silvertip in overage forward Brendan Lee (two goals).

Then on Saturday the Tips welcome the Prince George Cougars to town. Prince George (2-2-0-0) has a pair of NHL draft picks in goal in 19-year-old Tyler Brennan (just back from camp with the New Jersey Devils) and 18-year-old Ty Young (1-1-0-0, 4.00 goals against average, .893 save percentage). The Cougars are led offensively by a pair of 2023 NHL draft prospects in 18-year-old Koehn Ziemmer (three goals, two assists) and 17-year-old Riley Heidt (two goals, three assists).

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