Once the surefire fist-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, Shane Wright fell to the Seattle Kraken with the fourth-overall pick. The Kingston Frontenacs captain came into the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League season with lofty expectations, but fell short of those thanks to a handful of hindrances. As the Frontenacs bowed out of the playoffs in the second round at the hands of the North Bay Battalion, Wright’s stock fell, especially thanks to Juraj Slafkovský rising up the rankings late in the season.
With a little bit of luck, the Kraken secured themselves a player that many thought would be a guaranteed first-overall pick, but this isn’t as straightforward as some other highly-touted prospects have been. When Wright hits the ice for the 2022-23 season, it’s going to be with one of two teams; the Kraken, or the Frontenacs. Picking the right spot is going to be important for Ron Francis, as this is a critical development season for Wright.
Wright is a player that is going to have a chip on his shoulder next season. He was hoping to be the next star for the Montreal Canadiens, but they passed. He then hoped to be a star with the New Jersey Devils, but they passed. He was then hoping to be a star for the Arizona Coyotes, but they passed too. If there was ever going to be added motivation for the 18-year-old, it’s right now.
“I mean, obviously, you picture that in your mind,” Wright said. “You picture your name being called first and walking up to the stage, pulling on that jersey — especially with the draft being in Montreal and them picking first.”
“I’m definitely gonna have a chip on my shoulder from this for sure. Definitely a little more motivation. I’ve always been self-motivated. Always been pushing myself internally, but it’s definitely gonna give me a little more fire, for sure.”
Understanding why Wright fell is very important when deciding where he should play next season. In his rookie season in the OHL, Wright was an exceptional status player with the Frontenacs. Wright led the Fronts in goals with 39, and in points with 66. He was one of the biggest bright spots on a Frontenacs team that likely wouldn’t have been in a playoff spot without him, and although the playoffs were cancelled because of COVID-19, there were massive expectations for Wright and the Fronts for the 2020-21 season.
That is where things get complicated, however. While the OHL fuddled around with the Ontario government, players were forced to miss an entire season. Some players defected to Europe to get some games in, but while the league continued to tell players there would be some kind of season, Wright missed the boat, and ended up being stuck in Canada. There was no OHL season that year, even though both the WHL and the QMJHL got on the ice.
While other players around him in the draft (including Slafkovský, Simon Nemec, and Logan Cooley) all got on the ice during the height of the pandemic, Wright missed out on that critical year of development. He didn’t have the chance to get the game time, and when he did get back on the ice for the 2021-22 season, he wasn’t exactly where you would have expected a player of his calibre to be.
In the 2021-22 season, Wright’s numbers improved compared to his rookie season, but not as much as you would expect for what should have been his third season. He scored 32 goals and 94 points, increasing his point total by 28 points, but played five additional games compared to his rookie season. The numbers weren’t bad by any stretch, and averaging more than a point per game is impressive, but compare that to the last Canadian Hockey League player to be taken first overall with Alexis Lafreniere. In 52 games, Lafreniere scored 35 goals and 112 points, well above Wright’s mark despite playing fewer games.
What can be extrapolated out of this is that Wright is likely still a year behind on his development curve. Still, Wright is one of the most talented players coming out of the draft, but patience could prove to be important in getting him to be at his best.
Wright has already signed an entry-level contract with the Kraken, and you can virtually guarantee that he will be at training camp later this offseason, but what happens after that? Assuming Wright doesn’t look completely out of place when he gets to training camp, there’s a good chance he will stick around with the Kraken to start the season, much like Mason McTavish did with the Anaheim Ducks last season. Those nine games that Wright can play before burning a year on his contract will be important.
If Wright looks good and is handling life in the NHL well, this becomes a non-issue. You keep him around and let him get his feet wet in a season where the Kraken likely don’t have much in the way of expectations. If things don’t go well, however, there are two options. You can keep him around and hope things get better, or you send him back to Kingston.
Wright didn’t dominate in the OHL last season, so sending him back wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. If he went back, Kingston would immediately become contenders once again, and if they happen to slide out of the mix by the trade deadline, he would almost certainly be traded somewhere with Memorial Cup hopes. Either way, he would have another chance to experience the playoffs and potentially learn what it takes to win a championship. It would also offer him another season of being a leader, and being a guy that is looked up to in the locker room. In turn, this could offer him an extra dose of confidence when he does get to the NHL.
Would not having a player the calibre of Wright hurt the chances of the Kraken making the playoffs, or even finishing anywhere close to a playoff spot? Probably, but is that actually a bad thing right now? There’s no question that Seattle isn’t ready to contend as it stands right now, so would earning an extra year of control in exchange for a more confident and prepared player be worth it? To sweeten the pot, throw in the potential of being a lottery team with a high chance of getting Connor Bedard in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. Imagine the possibilities with both Wright and Bedard.
All of this to say, if sending Wright back to Kingston appears to be the best option for both the development of the player, and the club, Francis shouldn’t be afraid to make the move and allow his fourth-overall pick the time he needs to come into the NHL as complete of a player as possible. Time is on Seattle’s side, and they shouldn’t be afraid to use it.
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