With the news that Shane Wright – the Seattle Kraken’s first-round draft pick in 2022 – could play the entire 2022-23 season with the big club, questions naturally arise around whether that’s the best move for his development.
Even if the Kraken improve on their dismal 2021-22 campaign, they don’t figure to be anywhere in the discussion for Stanley Cup contention. The NHL is no stranger to watching highly-regarded prospects being handed too much responsibility too early and floundering under pressure. That specific concern is relevant to any newcomer to the league, but even more so when extremely valuable draft capital is invested in the player.
Despite the valid apprehension circling around the Kraken and Wright’s immediate future, the franchise would do well to make him a full-time player as soon as this season. He stands to gain very little by going back to junior hockey and could provide the Kraken with tangible benefits in their quest to claim their first-ever playoff spot without jeopardizing his development – let’s dive in.
Wright Has Little To Prove In Juniors
Wright lost an entire pre-draft year to the COVID pandemic as the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) was one of the only leagues in the world not to return to play in 2020-21 in some capacity. For a player still amid his peak growth period, that absence of playing time can have an exponentially negative effect on his long-term potential.
Still, Wright has demonstrated that returning to the junior circuit would be of little benefit to him and that having regular access to NHL coaches and facilities is the best choice for his current situation. Being surrounded by professional teammates in a more strictly regimented environment is a more appropriate landing spot for an already mature and responsible centerman.
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In 63 games with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, Wright finished eighth in league scoring with 94 points (32 goals and 62 assists) and sixth in total assists. He also showed notable discipline and was rarely out of position, only accrued 22 penalty minutes (PIM) on the year. The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship was rescheduled after a COVID outbreak caused an initial cancellation, and Wright did not feature in the showcase over the summer.
All of those variables factored into Wright falling to fourth in the draft, an unexpected drop for a prospect who many thought of as the presumptive first-overall pick at the beginning of the year. Pinpointing which teenager will blossom into the best professional is always somewhat of a gamble, but Wright appears determined to prove his doubters wrong.
Kraken Can Insulate Wright With Strong Center Depth
Looking at a list of recent draft busts, a significant factor in their disappointing tenures was the fact that many were placed in unfavorable situations for young players to thrive. Instead of learning under the tutelage of successful, experienced veterans, several prospects were thrown into the proverbial fire and struggled to adapt, either never reaching the heights expected of them or flunking out of the league altogether. Luckily for Wright and the Kraken, the 18-year-old center could earn his stripes lower in the lineup.
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According to DailyFaceoff, the Kraken are set to start the season with Matty Beniers and Yanni Gourde as their top-six centers, with Wright slotting into one of the bottom-six spots as a result. The tandem of Beniers and Wright figures to form the backbone of the Kraken’s future by setting them up with two young centers with elite potential, one of the most coveted packages of NHL roster construction. Gourde carried plenty of playoff experience forged with the dynastic Tampa Bay Lightning and was often tasked with the most difficult defensive assignments along the way.
Assuming Wright plays as the third-line center next season, he’ll likely have an easier time creating offense while testing out his defensive capabilities against less strenuous opposition. If he succeeds in easier minutes and gains confidence as a result, the transition to more challenging matchups should be smoother than simply hanging him out to dry from the outset. Given that winning the Stanley Cup is not the Kraken’s priority in 2022-23, Wright has the leeway to make and learn from his mistakes – a win-win situation for all involved.
Wright Physically Ready For The NHL
For many skilled prospects looking to break into the league full-time, an often-legitimate concern is whether they’re physically equipped to handle the rigors of the NHL. For Wright, there is little reason to doubt his ability to play against and besides men as a professional. He doesn’t exactly tower over his peers as a 6-foot pivot, but he’s far from frail, filling out his frame at a sturdy weight of 198lbs. As a result, he owns a low center of gravity, which allows him to hold off defenders and maintain control of the puck in physical board battles and open-ice collisions.
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There is no reason that he can’t continue to add lean muscle under the supervision of the Kraken training staff and become more comfortable in his movement. His poise and on-ice awareness offer a sizeable buffer as he becomes better acquainted with the intricacies of the professional game.
As with any rookie entering their first full dose of NHL action, there are sure to be growing pains as Wright finds his footing. Understanding and successfully fulfilling the many responsibilities associated with the center position adds another dimension of difficulty, but few should question his physical stature going into the year.
Keeping Wright In Seattle Is The Right Move
Although general manager Ron Francis feels the heat after a thoroughly underwhelming inaugural season, keeping his prized prospect in the NHL shouldn’t be viewed as a rash, short-sighted decision. The NHL represents a sterner test for a player who has outgrown the OHL, and he should have greater on-ice and organizational support and guidance as a professional. Whether he sheds the first year of his ELC in 2022-23 or returns to his old stomping grounds in Kingston, the future is bright in Seattle with Wright’s presence in the pipeline.
Data courtesy of Elite Prospects and HockeyDB.