The WHL has been consistently producing good NHL defensemen, ranging from Ivan Provorov to Shea Theodore. This trend is continuing with the 2022 Draft Class, with Denton Mateychuk, Kevin Korchinski, and Owen Pickering all being likely first-round selections come July 7. However, today’s focus will be drawn to three WHL defensemen that have already been drafted. The trio may play very different games from one another, but the three left-shot defensemen have dominated the league in their individual ways this season.
Olen Zellweger — Everett Silvertips (Selected #34 Overall by Anaheim in 2021)
Olen Zellweger was the WHL’s most talented and electrifying defender this season, and there was no close second. His combination of skating ability, speed, four-way mobility, vision, dynamism, and playmaking made him a constant threat. Not a shift went by where he faded into the background. His high-octane style of play certainly brings the risk of turnovers and odd-man rushes the other way, but the pros far outweighed the cons in 2021/22, even more so than they had in his draft year. Calling Zellweger’s production this season historic is accurate, as well. His 78 points in 55 games (1.42 pts/g) as a defenseman – and in the WHL of all CHL leagues – surpasses the points per game totals of all defensemen since the 1994/95 season, and that’s without even filtering out for minimum games played.
This ridiculous production, which includes 14 goals, is enough to make Zellweger top the PNHLe ratings of all drafted prospects in fellow Dobber writer Mason Black’s production equivalency model. In short, this means that Zellweger’s production was more impressive than that of every single other drafted prospect outside the NHL, accounting for variables such as age, league, and position. Zellweger had a tremendous season and that form has translated to the playoffs, in which he has put up seven points in five games.
Pair Zellweger’s offensive skill with his ability to suffocate plays when defending transition, aided by his high-end ability to match the footwork of the oncoming rusher which allows him to play a tight gap and push play to the perimeter, and you have yourself a defenseman with an extremely high ceiling. The Anaheim Ducks made a tremendous selection at the start of the second round last year and his development this year has made it look even better. The left-handed defenseman has the all-around ability, processing speed, and dynamism to become a top-pairing guy if his development continues on its current trajectory. Fantasy users should jump on him as quickly as possible if he is available, and could reap the results as early as 2023/24.
Carson Lambos — Winnipeg Ice (Selected #26 Overall by Minnesota in 2021)
Lambos went in the same range as Zellweger, and while he may not be getting nearly as much hype as his counterpart, the Minnesota Wild’s tendency to draft high-value players with significant upside continues with this pick (which came right after the heist they pulled to get Jesper Wallstedt at #20). Lambos played through injury last season and saw his draft stock plummet as a result; once regarded as a top-5 talent, he wasn’t even unanimously deemed first-round talent on draft day. While his performances have been blurred by playing on a team as dominant as the Ice this season, Lambos has been terrific as their number 1 blue-liner.
What makes Lambos spe