One thing the scouting community seemed certain about in all of this uncertainty, was that Shane Wright would be the first player selected in the 2022 NHL draft. While that is still the most probable outcome, there has been a groundswell amongst scouts, waiting for the U18 version of Shane Wright to appear in a Kingston Frontenacs uniform.
From a point production standpoint, there’s plenty to like. Wright has 17 goals and 29 assists for 46 points in 34 games played. That ranks fourth on his own team in scoring and just inside the OHL’s top 20. But, if you have followed our rankings in years past, you will know that point production is not the be all and end all when it comes to the projected first overall pick in any NHL draft.
General managers pine for either dynamic ability in more than one facet of the game, or an all-around player they can rely on for years to come. Wright projects more as the latter type of player, someone who is great in all facets of the game, yet not as dynamic as a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews. Those comparisons are unfair, yet will be made when discussing first overall picks year-over-year. Think Alexis Lafreniere.
Before everyone gets too excited, let’s take a more broad look at Wright’s tenure in the OHL. He was granted exceptional status, thus making him the clear favourite as the first overall pick in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. He burst on to the scene with 39 goals and 66 points in his first season, which was reduced to just 58 games thanks to the start of the pandemic.
The next OHL season was cancelled in his draft minus-1 year, and Wright didn’t play until getting a crack at the world juniors. He never got on track and was sent home after a two-week quarantine kept him off the ice for all but a few days. He returned home again and awaited the call from Hockey Canada to participate in the U18 worlds. There, he was playing at far less than 100 per cent, missed two games, and yet still tied for second in tournament scoring and tied Connor Bedard for top spot on Canada’s scoring list. Wright looked every bit the part of a two-way centre, presumably set to jump right into the NHL with one more year of seasoning in Kingston.
When talking about Wright now a familiar refrain is that he’s putting up points, but he’s lacking pace in his game, and is missing some of the fierce competitiveness that was so evident in him as a 15-year-old and again as the captain of Canada’s gold medal team at the world U18s.
In doing our due diligence, we have to remind ourselves that no other first overall pick has experienced what Wright has as a player, having to endure the mental strain of a world pandemic, the cancellation of a full season and the many stops and starts that have accompanied his time on the ice in the OHL. The rest of his draft class is in a similar situation, but none of them has had the pressure of being the projected first overall pick for three straight years. Maybe Brad Lambert is somewhat comparable, but Lambert has done so in a much softer spotlight.
When examining Wright's plight compared to the other five exceptional players before him (Bedard is the seventh and came after Wright), it’s interesting to see the number of games each played. Players are given this exceptional status to enter major junior a year earlier than they’re typically allowed, thus giving them a three-year runway to their NHL draft season. Three of theses players (John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid) have taken a path straight to the NHL. One, Joe Veleno, has just become a regular NHL player in Detroit this season, while Sean Day has made his NHL debut, but is struggling to maintain a regular spot in an NHL lineup.
|PLAYER||REG. SEASON GAMES PLAYED||PLAYOFF GAMES PLAYED||INTERNATIONAL GAMES PLAYED||TOTAL|
*projected to include the remainder of the OHL regular season and an estimation of at least 10 playoff games.
Keep in mind, these projections have Wright playing the remainder of the schedule for Kingston in the regular season and the assumption of 10 playoff games. If he were to reach those projections, Wright would finish with 55 fewer games played than Day, who ended up being selected in the third round of the 2016 draft. The three players on this list who went first overall played significantly more than Wright is projected to play. Ekblad will have had almost twice the number of games played, Tavares 166 more and McDavid 82 more. If we include Veleno, he will have played 135 more games than Wright.
The gold standard in any developmental model is games played, and Wright has missed a number of them due to the pandemic. There’s no replacing those lost games.
With all that in mind, it’s still Shane Wright’s draft. Here’s the rest of Sportsnet’s draft rankings for the month of February.
*denotes late 2003 birthday
1. Shane Wright, C Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): While the gap may have tightened, make no mistake, this is still the Shane Wright draft.
2. Joakim Kemell, LW, JYP (Liiga): Has finally returned after missing more than a month due to a shoulder issue. Here’s hoping he can regain the touch that saw him become Liiga’s leading scorer 18 games into the season.
3. Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP: Plays with pace, passion and production. Has improved steadily throughout the season and projects to continue trending up.
4. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS Turku (Liiga): Has all the tools at his disposal, but there is some concern about the numbers. Liiga numbers are typically predictive of NHL success and his are lacking (one goal, four points in 21 games). Having said that, he made Slovakia’s Olympic team as a 17-year-old.
*5. Brad Lambert, C, Pelicans (Liiga): Remains the most fascinating prospect in the higher-end of this draft class.
6. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Point production has started to wane, but still has the ability to bring you out of your seat with a deft pass or a precise shot.
*7. Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (KHL): Is effective at utilizing his teammates, but remains a constant scoring threat himself as well.
*8. David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Extraliiga): Many in the scouting community still believe he’s the best defenceman available and won’t be deterred by the knee injury he sustained at the world juniors.
9. Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk (VHL): Shot and skating ability translate well already and he’s not far off with the rest of his game.
10. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Concerns about not playing inside the dots enough are legit, but as he matures and continues to get stronger, those issues will subside.
11. Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia): Has continued to gain momentum in the conversation as the first D-man to have his name called in 2022.
12. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Has a dynamic ability that scouts look for in a game-changing player.
13. Frank Nazar III, C, USNTDP: Holding steady in the rankings as a result of his combination of will and skill, not to mention he leads the scoring parade on a talented USNTDP team.
He scored twice on us Wednesday but it's okay cause they'll be in the opponents net next year - welcome Frank Nazar of @USAHockeyNTDP #NewBlue #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/2glxOoijeH
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) February 4, 2022
14. Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP: Has emerged as the program’s top goal getter by a lengthy margin over the field (35 in 48 games).
*15. Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Dazzles with his feet and is super creative, showing a unique ability to make plays despite the risk level.
16. Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USNTDP: Is effective at utilizing inside ice, winning battles and establishing net-front presence.
17. Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP: High volume shooter who snipes as an equal opportunist against all levels of competition (league play, internationally and NCAA).
18. Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL): Comes by his smarts honestly and has shown dashes of dynamic ability in league play despite limited minutes.
19. Filip Mesar, RW, HK Poprad (Slovakia): Has excellent vision and creativity to his game. Is able to create space for himself and open lanes for others with his quickness.
20. Ryan Chesley, D, USNTDP: Understands his best asset is as a defender who uses his feet effectively to get back on pucks and make the simple play to initiate transition.
21. Liam Ohgren, LW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Safe pick in that he’s slightly above average in all categories, but grades out as well above average in the work ethic department.
*22. Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): May not possess an offensive ceiling as high as others in this class, but is a steady contributor at both ends of the ice and embracing adding more physicality to his game.
23. Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): A steady-eddie type who defends well and mixes in point production (39 points in 42 games). Will always have a place in the lineup because he moves pucks efficiently and effectively.
24. Alexander Perevalov, LW, Yaroslavl (MHL): Brings all the offensive elements to the table in a sleek and decent-sized package (6-foot, 192 pounds).
25. Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL): A player continues to generate interest, and is one of the highest risers in this draft class.
*26. Jack Hughes, C, Northeastern (NCAA): Doesn’t excel in any particular area of the game, but is extremely responsible, and uses his agility to play with pace when possessing the puck.
27. Maveric Lamoureux, D, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL): Upper body issue has him out for up to a month, giving him plenty of time to return for a good end of season run.
28. Rutger McGroarty, LW, USNTDP: Former Boston first-rounder and USNTDP player John Beecher seems to be a solid comparable for McGroarty.
29. Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): Displays tireless work ethic on and off the ice. Another fast riser thanks to his amazing vision and excellent feet.
*30. Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): A deep dive into the analytics has him as one of the best defensive centres in the OHL, yet he’s best recognized as the top scoring first-year draft eligible in all of the CHL with 57 points in 43 games.
Too much time, too much space for #NHLDraft prospect Luca Del Bel Belluz
He goes short side for his 22nd to give the @OHLSteelheads an early lead pic.twitter.com/vZdvV5P72h
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) February 5, 2022
31. Tristan Luneau, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Scouts are having an issue projecting what this player will be, but there’s enough raw talent and hockey IQ in place to figure out where he’ll fit in a lineup later.
*32. Adam Ingram, LW, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL): Plenty of room to fill out physically (6-foot-2, 165 pounds). His play away from the puck is a work in progress, but he has the enviable combination of size and skating ability, complemented by a big league shot.