When Shane Wright didn’t go first overall to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, an instant storyline was built. He had been the projected No. 1 pick seasons before his actual draft year, but as others rose and he seemed to level out, the race grew tighter. In the end, the Canadiens selected Juraj Slafkofsky, and by the time Wright’s name got called – all the way “down” at fourth overall – he found himself wearing a Seattle Kraken jersey while halfway mean-mugging the host Canadiens. He didn’t verbalize “I’ll make you pay for this” to the Montreal front office, instead he wrote it in a note delivered by his expression. (He denies the mean mug, of course.)
His season was always going to be one of great interest, given how high he was selected and making the NHL at age 18, and interesting it has indeed been.
We’re some six weeks into the season, and as it stands right now, the Kraken have dressed Wright for just seven of their 18 contests, leaving him with an ice-time total that checks in just below an hour, at 56 minutes. That’s about eight minutes per game, and that’s even skewed by some higher TOI totals in games that were out of reach, so head coach Dave Hakstol threw him over the boards to run the clock out.
Because the team can’t send him to the AHL for the season based on the asinine NHL/CHL agreement, the Kraken have found a loophole: they scratched him for five straight games, which enabled them to send him to the AHL on a two-week “conditioning stint.”
So far he’s played one game for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, where this happened:
He scored his first professional goal, and a beauty at that.
This AHL experience will take him right to the World Juniors (where he will handily be one of the best players there), then the hope is that playing big minutes in the AHL followed by a key role at the World Juniors will have helped his confidence and development and will help him be a better player for … well, either a team in the OHL or the Kraken, depending on how things go. (The safer bet is that he goes back to the OHL.)
But how did we get here, with Wright being so quickly shuffled off the NHL roster, seemingly without any real NHL chance? What have the Kraken seen that have led them to the conclusion that he can’t handle meaningful minutes? Are they in the wrong in handling his development thus far?
Below is a comprehensive review of his initial hour of NHL hockey, as well as a look at what they’ve offered him for opportunity, and what I think has gone right and wrong thus far.
Shane Wright has not had the hockey puck in the NHL, not at all.
In reviewing every shift he’s had this season, that’s easily my biggest takeaway. Halfway through watching his minutes I had to go to SportLogiq to find out how much he’s actually had it, because it seemed like he was barely involved.
Indeed, after 18 Kraken games with the team 10-5-3, Shane Wright has had the puck for less than a minute and a half, which includes 35 seconds of possession time in the O-zone. Thirty-five seconds! If you include powerplay, he’s had the puck for 1:40, and 0:47 seconds in the O-zone.
I think it’s fair to say having the puck for under two minutes probably isn’t great for development?
If you’re Wright, it may not seem particularly fair that he was handed essentially nothing but fourth line opportunity, given his skill set. It’s not just asking him to adjust to the NHL, it’s asking him to do it while learning to play a role he’s never played before.
I recognize that the staff of the Kraken’s mandate is to win, and it’s not just about Wright. It’s hard to look at the roster and see who should come out for him to be in most nights, and they’ve been winning. But how can an 18-year-old offensive producer have success on a line that’s primarily asked to keep the puck out of their own net, while receiving no special teams time?
So, while there’s an argument to be made about the opportunity he’s been handed, I do see what the team has apparently seen, which has been no small amount of mistakes and physical limitations. (An 18-year-old in the NHL should be allowed to make a few, but there is a limit.)
To be fair to the Kraken, he just hasn’t done anything to force their hand. I’ve picked through the numbers, and even where things look good for Wright, there’s not much behind them. He’s been on for four goals for and none against at even strength, but the goals for have been circumstantial (he just hopped on the ice, or his teammates made a play). He’s certainly not creating anything.
Let’s start with a look at the trends I see that would make Seattle hesitant to use him before we look at some positives.
There’s the physical stuff, which I imagine is where the Kraken are least concerned. My most common note on his shifts was “light.” He apparently clocks in at 190 pounds, but in physical confrontations he’s gentle, and hesitant, and easily tossed off the puck. There are huge, strong men out there, and it’s tough to watch him play without thinking “that guy looks like an 18-year-old.”
You’ll see him here on the outside of battle piles, unable to get in, giving and taking contact in just a very gentle way:
Related to this video was how often he finds himself picking himself up off the ice. You think of some of the strongest skaters in the league, and you can barely recall a time they find themselves brushing snow off their jerseys all season. Whether because of edgework or leg strength or desperation, Wright has been off his blades with remarkable frequency for a guy who’s only played 56 minutes.
So I don’t think there’s much confidence in his ability to handle the game physically at the NHL level at 18-years-old, in which there’s no shame. It’s worth noting that it’s possible Seattle actually likes this developmental path for Wright. He’s been around the team and league and got a taste of where he needs to get. He’s had plenty of time with scratches to lift and work on his body and skills, he’ll have time in the AHL to get the touches, and he’ll be able to get the confidence of playing kids his own age in junior. There’s a lot to like about his path ahead.
Because lastly in the negative category, has been that utter lack of offence. Remember, he’s had the puck for less than 90 seconds total, and just 35 seconds in the offensive zone. His puck touches are quick and rushed, and often end up looking like this:
He’s going to be fine. He’s not yet 19 and has started enjoying some nice paychecks and has a huge runway ahead of him. But for now, you can at least see that Seattle hasn’t exactly been closed-minded about giving him more opportunities, they’ve likely been concerned about what more ice time might look like.
To zoom out, I came away from watching his hockey to date with this conclusion: He’s going to be a really nice player.
I like how he thinks and plays the game. He’s hyper-aware positionally, and has a good sense of when it’s time to go and not go in a forecheck rotation. He’s already 6’0” 190 pounds, and as much as he’s ended up on his keister a lot in those videos, he doesn’t seem to shy away from the contact. As you can see in the AHL video, he’s got real talent.
If you’re the Kraken and considering giving him more ice time, he’s got that positional play going for him. You can trust him. He’s good at getting in on forechecks, reading when it’s time to pull out and get into a good spot, then coming back to help on regroups:
And further to that, he’s a reliable F3, meaning he has a sense for staying above the opposition’s breakout, which includes folding behind his D-men when they pinch in the offensive zone. He doesn’t just dive in when he gets on the ice, rather he considers his role in the system, and shows he’s smart by staying on the D-side.
I didn’t think it was worth clipping, but there are numerous times in the D-zone you can see him pointing and communicating with his team in the D-zone. And when he’s there, and the opposing D-man gets the puck, he’s not shy at getting in the shooting lane, as he successfully blocked the shots that were his to block.
In all, Shane Wright looks like a prospect who’s going to be a player who isn’t ready yet, that’s all. He looks young. When the Canadiens picked Juraj Slafkofsky, they said they weren’t picking the guy who they thought would be the best player today, but the guy who’d have the most impactful career. I’d say that gamble is a long way from decided yet.
Wright has strides to make on the physical and mental (confidence) side so he’s able to utilize the tools that made him great in junior. There’s enough there to see a guy who’s going to be an effective NHLer. And while the Kraken didn’t give him much of a chance to be that guy from the jump this season, it’s not hard to figure out why they had their doubts.
They’re getting him in some good spots now, and will have a decision to make come January. They probably won’t see him again this year, but doing what they’re doing gives him the best chance to get back and help the big club as soon as possible.
With enough viewings, it’s easy to see his path ahead not as a failing, but the best one for all parties involved.