Will Seattle Kraken No. 1 pick Shane Wright play in the NHL this season?
When Shane Wright fell to the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Draft in July, Seattle’s brain trust wasted no time in making their choice. Wright had long been expected to be the first overall selection and having him at four was a godsend.
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It seems the plan is to get Wright to play in the NHL this year, even though he’s only 18. When Seattle Kraken training camp opens Sept. 22, how Wright fits in will be one of the things to watch before the season begins.
General manager Ron Francis didn’t outright confirm that Wright was on the roster, but hinted at it and said he’d prefer Wright not to attend the recently completed Junior World Championships for Team Canada in order to prepare for boot camp.
“I think like everyone else, he has an opportunity to be part of our team,” Francis said over the summer. “He will have to earn this place. So, I’m not sitting here saying that Shane is going to be in our line-up, but he has an opportunity like everyone else to break through the line-up. If he does, I’m not worried about the youthful look.
The Seattle Kraken have two options with Wright this season. They can send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for one more season with the Kingston Frontenacs. But if they do that, they won’t be able to call him back to the NHL during the season. Wright is not eligible to play in the American Hockey League with the Kraken’s newest affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds. Players drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League – of which the OHL is a part – are not eligible to play in the AHL until they are 20 years old.
So either he plays with the Seattle Kraken or he goes back to playing junior hockey.
It’s an important decision for a player who will play a big role in Seattle’s future in the middle of the roster. It’s not a decision they need to make now, or even before the end of camp. They can fire him after the start of the season, but if they do after he’s played nine NHL games, he’ll burn the first year of his entry-level contract.
It’s not unprecedented for top draft picks to be fired.
In 2014, the Edmonton Oilers selected future star Leon Draisaitl with the third overall draft pick after scoring 38 goals for the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders. He made the Oilers roster at age 18 the following season and played in 37 games, scoring just two goals and seven assists. Edmonton made the decision to send him back to junior where he was immediately traded to the Kelowna Rockets before leading them to a WHL championship and Memorial Cup final game.
Draisaitl returned to the NHL the following season and has since become one of the best players in the league.
It’s a big choice for the Kraken, Francis and head coach Dave Hakstol to make. Which option is best for Wright’s development and what can we expect from him this season?
Is Wright ready for NHL hockey?
Wright has obvious skills at the NHL level, chief among which is his awareness on the ice. He sees the game well, has a keen sense of hockey, which earned him 62 assists in 63 games last season.
He also played the role during Seattle’s development camp in July, but the competition was against younger players.
So why did he slip after more than a year of being touted as the presumptive first choice? There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on why he didn’t move past fourth overall. Some say they didn’t think his senior year as a junior was dominant enough to warrant a top pick.
Last season, after a full year off due to COVID, Wright had 32 goals and 94 points at age 17. Those numbers are good, but when you compare them to Oilers superstar Connor McDavid — who scored 44 goals and 120 points in his final season in the OHL — you can see how some scouts might have wanted more from Wright.
The missed season may have cost Wright some development and we’re in uncharted waters when it comes to assessing the NHL’s prospects during a pandemic, which makes it harder to find a comparable.
Slipping a few slots at the top of the draft doesn’t necessarily mean a player isn’t ready for the NHL. However, recent precedent might warrant wondering if Wright is ready for the NHL.
The New York Rangers took Alexis LaFrenière to No. 1 in the 2020 draft and he’s yet to produce at the NHL level – scoring 21 points as a rookie and 31 last season. Wright seems to have NHL skills, but would another year of development be the best option for him?
Where will Wright end up this year?
Despite the reservations of those outside of the franchise, all signs point to Wright starting the season with the Kraken in the NHL.
But, let’s say he came back to the OHL and is dominating the league. Will it help him become a better player? It may help his confidence, but dominating junior players doesn’t necessarily challenge him to improve. If he’s too good for the OHL, then the NHL might be the way to go.
He’ll have to earn a spot on the roster as Francis said, but if the Kraken treats it like a development season and doesn’t expect high production numbers-wise, and thinks he can get regular ice time, there’s no reason not to play. him.
Ice time is key. Francis and Hakstol need to find him consistent ice time and if they can’t, they should send him back to the OHL, where he’ll get all the playing time in the world. There’s little benefit to scratching him every night or limiting his playing time. Seattle is a team that should be able to find time for him. The Kraken have plenty of depth up front but aren’t so loaded that Wright would be relegated to a fourth line role, less than ten minutes a night.
It’s exciting to think about the idea of Wright and Matty Beniers locking down the top two middle positions for the Kraken, but patience is key. This season, expectations for Wright should be low. Let him learn the game without worrying about points and goals, which might be rare due to his inexperience.
If managed correctly, it will pay dividends in the future for Wright and the Kraken.
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