I t’s one day after the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup and Shane Wright is driving home from an afternoon skate. As he talks, the 18-year-old goes through some familiar motions, the “tick, tick, tick” of his turn signals audible over Bluetooth. But he’s also — finally — mere days away from a night he’s been working toward for years.
For many people’s money, Wright’s hard work over that time has paid off; they expect he’s going to be selected first overall at the NHL Draft, Thursday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal. If the centreman from Burlington, Ont., does go No. 1, Montreal will also be his future home as a member of the Canadiens, who own that top pick.
The Kingston Frontenacs captain, fresh off a 94-point season — 32 goals and 62 assists in 63 games, good for a 1.49 points-per-game clip — sat down with Sportsnet ahead of draft night to discuss a range of topics from his cerebral game to his sweet tooth, and what it was like to move away from home to chase his dream when he was just 12 years old.
SPORTSNET: Have you been crossing off the days on your calendar leading up to the draft?
WRIGHT: [Laughs.] A little bit, yeah. It feels like it’s taken a while to get to this day. I’m just super excited, super happy and overall really looking forward to it.
Yeah, there’s obviously going to be some. You’re nervous and you’re just kind of hoping that it goes well, hoping that everything works out properly.
What does ‘works out properly’ look like to you?
I’m a competitive guy, I want to be the best, so obviously I want to be the first pick. That’s where I want to go. It’s out of my control, it’s not my decision, but that’s obviously what I want.
What are you wearing to the draft?
I’ve got my suit, I got it all tailored to me. It’s ready to go.
Ok, let’s get some details. What colour’s the suit, what does the tie look like, and how about your socks? Are you getting a haircut?
[Laughs.] It’s a navy blue-ish colour with some checkers on it. And then I’ve got a classic white shirt. The tie’s got blue and white stripes on it. I’ve got a brown belt and brown shoes, and just normal dress socks. I’m not too over-the-top with my fashion choices. And I’ll probably have a fresh haircut.
Seems like a good idea for a big night.
Yeah, make sure you look clean, right?
Are you into fashion?
I’m starting to get into it a little more. I’m starting to care about what I wear and how I look and that kind of stuff. I like feeling good about myself and feeling good about how I look.
Is there anyone in hockey that you look up to when it comes to style?
Probably not someone I could copy, but Auston Matthews. He’s known for his fashion and his outfits. Some of the stuff he wears, I probably couldn’t pull off, but he’s definitely someone who takes care of his fashion and looks pretty good doing it.
You’d have to go without a tie on draft night, with a couple buttons open and a free chest.
Yeah, I don’t think I could do that. [Laughs.]
How old were you when you started dreaming about playing in the NHL?
As soon as I started playing [at age five]. Hockey was always my passion. I loved watching the NHL players on TV. It’s always been my goal to play in the NHL. I haven’t ever had a backup plan or different goal in mind.
Were you always centre?
I was always a forward. I like scoring goals, so… [laughs].
By virtue of geography, were you a fan of the Leafs as a kid?
Actually no, I wasn’t, funny enough. I was a Pittsburgh fan because of [Sidney] Crosby. He was always my guy growing up, so Pittsburgh was always my team. My dad was a Leafs fan. But I never was, it just wasn’t my team.
You saved yourself some heartbreak.
[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. Potentially.
What other passions did you have outside of hockey when you were younger?
It was pretty solely focused on hockey, but just sports and being active is what I loved. Soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, whatever it was. I always played with my sister growing up. She’s a pretty good athlete as well.
How competitive did it get with you and Maddie? [She’s three years older and plays soccer for the University of Waterloo.]
We’re both pretty competitive people and we don’t like to lose. Some of the games could get pretty heated at times, that’s for sure. She was always a better basketball player than me. We had a hoop in our front yard and we’d play all the time, and she was always a little more skilled and a better shooter as well.
When did you realize you were really good at hockey?
I think around age 12, it started to hit me. That was the age that I changed teams, I moved out of Burlington to play in a better league with better players and against better competition.
And then at 15, you’re deemed exceptional and you enter the OHL a year early. How life-changing was that, even just to realize you were in that elite company? [Wright was the fifth player ever granted exceptional status in the OHL.]
That definitely changed a whole lot of things — being able to go in the OHL a year early, to get all that extra development. It was an honour and a privilege to have that title.
There’s a perception of you that you’re focused and serious all the time. But I heard you say in an interview with Sam Cosentino that you can be fun, too. True story?
I like to think it’s true [laughs]. I try to be funny, but I don’t know if I am. I like to enjoy myself. Being at the rink and being around the guys is what I enjoy the most. It’s where I’m the most happy. I like having fun and keeping it light at times, and I think it’s also important to create a balance, right?
Is that a stereotype of good hockey players, do you think, that you’re all always serious?
Yeah, I think it is, honestly. People see those high-end players as guys who are super-focused 100 per cent of the time; they don’t have time for fun activities, they don’t have time to laugh or joke around. But obviously that’s super important — to be serious, be intense, but also laugh, enjoy every second of it and have fun, because that’s why you play the game, because you love it.
What does a weekend off look like for you, say a summer weekend with your friends?
We’re definitely going golfing. I’ve been golfing a whole lot this summer. I’d most likely be doing that or going up to the cottage. Hanging out with the guys is what I’d probably be doing, enjoying time with all my buddies. We’ve got ping pong at the cottage, we’ve got pool and darts — all kinds of activities and games. It comes back to sports and games with me always, but that’s where I have the most fun.
Let’s get back to hockey. Can you give us a scouting report on yourself?
I’m an offensive player who’s super defensively sound and can be trusted in a lot of different situations. I think I’m someone who’s a smart player. I think the game at a high level, I understand situations on the ice and where the puck’s going, and I understand where my teammates are. I think I can score goals as well. I have a pretty good shot. I can make plays with my passing and my skating.
What do you say to people that question your intensity because you’re not a super flashy player?
I’d say that sometimes, the way I play the game, it looks like I’m not skating full speed, it looks like I’m not competing hard every time. But I’m reading the game, reading different situations and where guys are on the ice, and anticipating where the puck is going rather than just skating full speed all the time and chasing after it. I’m trying to think ahead and anticipate where it’s going rather than just chasing after the puck and going in circles.
Maturity is a word often used to describe you. How’d you get so mature so fast?
[Laughs.] I think a lot of times I had to grow up quick. Age of 12, I moved away from home [to Vaughan, Ont.] with my dad. I went to a new school, went to a new team [the Don Mills Flyers]. I think throughout my entire life I’ve been more of a mature guy compared to my peers. Especially going to the OHL at 15, you have to mature more. You’re put in different situations you haven’t experienced, you’re interacting with a lot of older players than you. I’ve had to grow up a little quicker because of the situations I’ve been in.
What was it like moving out at 12?
It was tough. It was definitely the right thing to do, though. It was the decision that really took my career and my game to the next level. But definitely difficult, you’re moving away from home and from your family. For me it was my dad and I moved away together for a bit, so I didn’t get to see my mom and my sister as much. It meant moving away to a different city, a new school, a new team and new teammates and all that. Adjusting to all that was difficult at times but it was worth it and the move was necessary.
Did you cry when you left?
No, I didn’t cry when I left. I understood that this is what is going to help my development the most, this is what’s going to take my game to the next level. It was obviously tough, but I didn’t cry.
What’s your best nickname?
Probably ‘Wrighter’ or ‘Shaner.’ Nothing too crazy.
Wow, Shaner Wrighter. I should’ve guessed.
[Laughs.] Yeah, usually a safe bet.
I heard you started playing the guitar recently. What songs have you mastered?
I got a couple I’m working on. I can do “Drive By” by Train. I can do “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. I can do “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons. “Cigarette Daydreams” [by Cage the Elephant]. Those are some of my better ones.
How’s your singing voice?
Uh, singing voice is non-existent.
Do you have a favourite artist to listen to?
I’m a country music guy, so I like Morgan Wallen. I like Riley Green, Luke Combs, Florida Georgia Line — kind of the classic guys.
Given that the draft is coming up, have you Googled yourself recently? How could you resist?
I really don’t do that often, honestly. You Google “Sidney Crosby” and so many pictures come up. So it’s almost surreal for me, because once in a while you’re Googling your own name and you see pictures and articles. It’s pretty cool, but I try not to do it too much.
What’s your staple pregame meal?
I just do a pasta with a meat sauce. That’s what I’ve done all year, probably what I’ll continue to do in the future.
Is that chickpea pasta?
It’s a whole wheat pasta. I like to eat pretty clean. It’s something you can control, something that can impact your development and impact your play a lot. I definitely have cheat meals, though.
What’s your favourite cheat meal?
Pizza’s a good cheat meal. I’m a pretty big fan of sweets. I like brownies. I like cookies and chocolate and all that, so probably some of that as well.
You got to take in a morning skate and then Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Could you picture yourself right in there, playing with an NHL team in October?
I do, yes. I want to be an NHL player next year, that’s what I’m working towards, that’s where I believe I can get to. I think that I also have a lot of work to do. It’s definitely going to be a pretty big learning curve, jumping into the league as an 18-year-old hopefully, and just kind of understanding the game a little more, getting used to the pace and the speed and understanding the lifestyle and all that. But that is where I think that I can be next year with a good amount of work this off-season and in training camp as well.
Would you describe yourself as a confident person?
I think I would. I’m confident in myself, I’m confident in what I can do. I understand my game, I understand my strengths, my weaknesses, what I can do on the ice. I know where I have the most success and what I can bring to a team. I think it’s more a quiet confidence in that I know what I can do and the level I can play at.
Where does that confidence come from?
Being a good hockey player you have to have confidence in yourself and your game. When I’m playing with confidence, I’m enjoying every second of it. I’m confident I’m going to make a play and that I’m going to play well. I think that’s when I have the most success. That’s something I’ve developed throughout the years. When I’m feeling good about myself and my game, that’s when I’m really playing at a high level.
There’s been so much talk this season that that you’re going first overall in the draft. Even if you buried your head in the sand you would’ve heard it. What is it like to be expected to go No. 1?
I think there’s two sides to it. It’s cool and special to hear people say that about you and about your game. But I also think that it comes with a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to live up to those expectations, to live up to what people believe you can be, to be the player they expect you to be. There’s two sides to it, but it is a pretty cool thing, for sure.
Does it also create automatic disappointment if you don’t go first overall?
I think for sure it would. Any high-end guy in the draft would say they’re disappointed they didn’t go first, and I’d be the same. But I think that at the end of the day, I’m being picked by an NHL franchise and achieving that dream. So even if I don’t go first — obviously I want to go first — but I’m still being chosen by an NHL team and I’m fulfilling that dream.
Fans in Montreal are already expressing excitement about you. Are you feeling and hearing that?
Yeah, I think potentially going to Montreal with that unbelievable franchise, and arguably the best fanbase in the entire NHL, having that as a potential landing spot for me is really exciting. Anytime you can play for an Original Six franchise with the fanbase they have and the history of the organization is something that doesn’t come along too often. Definitely super excited for that potential opportunity.
If Montreal is your destination, will you need to work on your French?
[Laughs.] My French is not very good, so if that’s where I went, yeah, I’d definitely have to work on that.
Can you order a meal in French?
I’d probably be able to, yeah.
That’s an okay start. What would it mean to you to go first overall?
It would mean a lot to me. That’s something I’ve been working toward my entire life. That’s what I’ve been preparing for, putting in all the hours, putting in all the work. All the interviews, all the expectations, all the pressures this past year and the past couple years, especially, it would mean a lot to finally have that all pay off. But I do think it’s one thing to get drafted first, and another thing to prove to people that you deserve it. That’s something I really want to show as well, that If I am the first pick in the draft, I want to prove that I deserved to be that pick, I deserved to have that distinction. I’ve got to earn my spot on the team. I’ve got to earn everything I have in the NHL, hopefully. But it would mean a lot.
Are you excited to not have to talk about the Draft anymore, after July 7?
[Laughs.] Uh, yeah. Definitely.
Sorry to add to all the talk, but it is a big deal.
[Laughs.] No, no. It’s all good. I appreciate the talk. Thank you.