Canadiens hopeful Shane Wright ready to ‘make a difference’ in NHL right away

Top NHL Draft prospect Shane Wright speaks with Sean Reynolds about the possibility of being the first overall pick, comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, and his cerebral approach to the game.

DENVER – Shane Wright has a strong belief in when and where he should be drafted next month. And “it would mean the world” to him to be drafted first overall to the Montreal Canadiens.

But the top-ranked prospect will face intriguing competition in July 7’s race to the Bell Centre podium, and he’s smart enough to realize there’s no use in campaigning now.

The season is over, the combine results have been tallied, and all the interviews are complete. The ink on the résumé has dried.

“It’s out of my control now. What my opinion is — or what I say, or what I think — doesn’t matter at this point,” Wright said Saturday at Colorado’s Ball Arena.

“It’s in the hands of Montreal and their management. I obviously would like to be the first-overall pick, but at the end of the day, it’s not my decision.”

[brightcove videoID=6308157660112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Wright had been the consensus No. 1 prospect of the 2022 class for months, yet strong showings by Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley could give him a run.

The Canadiens have been longing for centre depth. Aggressive attempts to mold a young Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin or Jesperi Kotkaniemi into a consistent, reliable pivot never panned out.

Wright has the ingredients that, hopefully, will allow him to develop into a top-six fixture in the show.

Well-rounded if unflashy natural centreman. Wicked right shot. Defensively responsible. Solid size (6 feet, 191 pounds) already. Piles up points wherever he goes.

The Kingston Frontenacs star raves about his recent dinner with Canadiens rookie GM Kent Hughes and his brass.

“I really love what they’re all about, what they were saying about the city and describing the organization and describing where they want to go in the future and them wanting to build a winning franchise,” Wright says.

“I obviously want to be a part of that and just really enjoyed how it went overall.”

The kid’s confidence is off the charts.

He is reminded that some high picks, such as Cale Makar and Owen Power, were served well by patiently seasoning their skills for an extra season in college, arriving ready to stick once they hit the NHL.

Wright counters that every situation is unique.

“Those guys are both defencemen. I’m a forward,” Wright points out. “It’s a little different transition to the league comparing a defenceman to a forward.

“I don’t think it’s set in stone you have to go back [or] you have to play the first year as a first pick. It’s really dependent on what the team wants and where that player’s at with their development.”

At age 18, are you prepared to dress in your NHL team’s 2022-23 opening night lineup?

“I think I am. I really do. Just based off watching out there, it’s fast. It’s going to be an adjustment at the start. The biggest thing is going to be the speed and just kind of learning the league,” Wright says.

“But I think with a lot of work this offseason, and with a lot of training and developing in training camp, and learning a lot from the coaches and other players, I think I can step in to really make a difference. And that’s where I want to be. That’s where I see myself, and I think that’s the goal I set for myself for next year.”

The Burlington, Ont., native attended Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Denver with fellow top prospects Connor Geekie, Matthew Savoie, and Cutter Gauthier.

Savoie and Wright have formed a friendship. They’ve been battling against each in spring hockey since they were 12-year-olds. Savoie concedes that Wright has always been on another level from his peers.

“Yeah, definitely. He was ahead of everyone else physically and just skill-wise. He really wants to be the top pick,” Savoie says.

“There’s been a lot of talk, a lot of speculation, but he’s a great player. He’s good all around. He works hard. He plays the right way.”

On Saturday, Wright chatted briefly with Bowan Byram, Alex Newhook, and Nathan MacKinnon after watching the Avalanche’s high-paced morning skate and the pros’ routine closely.

“It’s super fast. Everything’s super crisp. No one’s missing a pass, no one’s missing the tape and everything’s at a high speed. It’s fun to watch those guys, fun to be up close and watch them in practice rather than kind of just watching them on TV,” Wright says. “Being here in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s what you work for your entire life.

“It was definitely inspiring to see those guys here, see how hard they worked, and see what it takes to make it at this level.”

Wright will confess to some nerves and anxiousness as the days tick down to his Montreal trip and his moment — first overall or not — in the spotlight.

“But I think more so excitement,” Wright says.

“Looking forward to going through the draft process, going through that experience. I think just being there, having the feel of getting drafted, I think is just what I’m most excited for.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.