2 of Ducks’ Prized Prospects Vying for Memorial Cup Win

Prospects Nathan Gaucher and Olen Zellweger are the only two Anaheim Ducks prospects competing for the Canadian Hockey League’s (CHL) ultimate prize, the Memorial Cup. Annually contested to determine the top major junior team in the CHL, the Memorial Cup is a round-robin and knockout competition between the winners of the CHL’s three leagues: the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

Gaucher plays for the Québec Remparts, while Zellweger plays for the Kamloops Blazers, this year’s tournament host. Both have been significant contributors to their teams’ success so far, in what will be their final action at the junior level. With the tournament currently in action, let’s look at their performances and when we might be seeing them wear a Ducks uniform in the future.

World Junior Championship Teammates Turned Foes

A few months ago, Gaucher and Zellweger were teammates for Team Canada as they took home the gold medal in the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC). They skated together in Canada’s 2022 WJC victory, too. So, they know each other well. According to Zellweger though, that didn’t matter, saying in an interview on the eve of their matchup, “…we’re not really talking or being friends right now. It’s going to be competitive; maybe after the tournament we’ll talk about the games and the tournament, but for now it’s all business.”

Nathan Gaucher Quebec Remparts
Nathan Gaucher, Quebec Remparts (Photo: Jonathan Roy)

Enemies on this night, it was Gaucher and the Remparts that got the best of Zellweger and the Blazers in an 8-3 route. Both players made their presence felt: Gaucher fired an absolute rocket from above the faceoff circle to make it a 3-1 game early in the second period. In the highest stakes possible yet again, he showed how well he could use his big body, leveraging his stick to get all of the puck and driving it in from distance. In the tournament overall, he’s been dynamic and multi-faceted with his physicality, offensive, and defensive instincts, and the Remparts currently sit atop the round-robin standings with two wins in three games. He’ll be an enticing option down the middle for Anaheim, who have a history of 6-foot-3 dynamos on their roster.

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Zellweger was on the ice for a couple of goals against in the Remparts matchup but otherwise looked good and was never outmatched or in the wrong spot. He also chipped in with an assist as the Blazers made a brief push early in the third period. His team rebounded in the second game and remains in the mix to qualify for the semi-final game. Overall, his offensive output at the junior level over the last couple of years has been sensational. He was a WHL First Team All-Star this season and averaged 1.45 points per game. He’s done even better in the WHL playoffs, co-leading all skaters, not just defensemen, in scoring with 21 points.

Potentially Turned Teammates Again

There will soon be a time when these two studs can be teammates again: at the professional level with the Ducks. With an abundance of openings on the roster, both are firmly in the mix for an opening-night spot. Pat Verbeek has no reason not to give each of these guys a firm, extended look at their potential to suit up for game one of the 2023-24 campaign.

Related: 3 Ducks Prospects Return Home with a WJC Gold

The number of openings on Anaheim’s blue line plus the absolute dominance with which Zellweger has played at the junior level are the reasons why he is the most likely to make the Ducks’ roster next season. Outside of a Memorial Cup win, there’s nothing left for him to do or prove at that level. He has done all the competing against 20-year-olds that he needs to.

Olen Zellweger Kamloops Blazers
Olen Zellweger, Kamloops Blazers (Candice Ward/CHL)

Gaucher has an NHL frame and the dynamic skillset to use it well at the NHL level. The Ducks’ forward group was the worst offense in the NHL, so again, Verbeek should be looking everywhere for offensive help.

Ducks Prospects on the Whole Take Home a Haul of CHL Awards

Joining Zellweger and Gaucher in training camp will be several other award-winning prospects in the Ducks system. The list of awards won by Ducks prospects in the CHL this year:

  • Zellweger: WHL Defenseman of the Year (back-to-back winner)
  • Gaucher: QMJHL Top Defensive Forward
  • Tyson Hinds: QMJHL Best Defensive Defenseman
  • Pavel Mintyukov: OHL Defenseman of the Year
  • Tristan Luneau: QMJHL Defenseman of the Year

Each of these players is on their own timeline when it comes to making the Ducks roster. However, to see defensive prospects winning accolades is a pleasant sight, given the Ducks have been without an unquestioned number-one defenseman since 2010 when Scott Niedermayer retired. Their last defensive prospect with this much junior success was Shea Theodore, and we know how that turned out.

How Bright Is the Ducks’ Future?

If these awards are any indication, it’s as bright as the California sun. There are prospects with legitimate star power, prospects with raw skill, and, perhaps best of all, prospects with championship pedigree. As a Ducks fan, if you allow yourself to use your imagination and look ahead, then it’s easy to see that brighter days are coming for this franchise.

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For Zellweger and Gaucher, they will play out the last of their junior careers in pivotal games, and the prospect of their rematch in the knockout stage looms large. Whether it’s one or neither of them that end up bringing home a Memorial Cup win, we as fans can eagerly embrace that they’re likely to begin their NHL careers in a Ducks uniform in short order.