Will Seattle Kraken top pick Shane Wright play in the NHL this season?

Sep 14, 2022, 10:08 AM
Seattle Kraken Shane Wright...
Shane Wright is drafted by the Seattle Kraken during Round One of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft on July 07, 2022. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

When Shane Wright fell to the Seattle Kraken during July’s NHL Draft, the Seattle brain trust wasted no time in making the pick. Wright had long been expected to be the first overall selection and to get him at four was a steal.

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It appears that the plan is to have Wright play in the NHL this year, despite only being 18 years old. When Seattle Kraken training camp opens on Sept. 22, how Wright fits in will be one of the things to watch before the season begins.

General manager Ron Francis has not outright confirmed that Wright is on the roster, but has hinted at it and said he preferred that Wright not participate in the recently completed World Junior Championships for Team Canada to prepare for training camp.

“I think like everybody, he’s got an opportunity to make our team,” Francis said this summer. “He’ll have to earn that spot. So, I’m not sitting here saying Shane’s gonna be in our lineup, but he has an opportunity like everybody else to crack the lineup. If he does, I’m not worried about the youth aspect.”

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 can not recall him to the NHL during the season. Wright is not eligible to play in the American Hockey League with the Kraken’s new affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds. Players drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League – which the OHL is part of – are not eligible to play in the AHL until they are 20 years old.

So, it’s either he plays with the Seattle Kraken or goes back to play junior hockey.

It’s an important decision to make for a player that figures to be a big part of Seattle’s future down the middle of the lineup. It’s not a decision they have to make now, or even before the end of camp. They can send him down after the season starts but if they do so after he plays nine games in the NHL then he’ll burn the first year of his entry contract.

It’s not unprecedented for top draft picks to get sent back.

In 2014, the Edmonton Oilers selected future star Leon Draisaitl with the third overall pick of the draft after he scored 38 goals for the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders. He made the Oilers roster at 18 the next season and played 37 games, only scoring 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 the Memorial Cup final game.

Draisaitl returned to the NHL the following season and has turned into one of the best players in the league since.

It’s a big choice that the Kraken, Francis, and head coach Dave Hakstol must make. Which option is the best for Wright’s development and what should be expected of him this season?

Is Wright ready for NHL hockey?

Wright has some obvious NHL level skills, chief of which is his awareness on the ice. He sees the game well, has a high hockey sense, and that resulted in him racking up 62 assists in 63 games last season.

He also looked the part during Seattle’s development camp in July, but the competition was against younger players.

So, why did he slip after over a year of being touted as the presumed top pick? There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on why he didn’t end up going higher than fourth overall. Some say they didn’t feel his final year in 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 as a 17-year-old. Those numbers are good but when you compare them to Oilers superstar Connor McDavid – who scored 44 goals and 120 points in his last season in the OHL – you can see how some scouts might have wanted more out of Wright.

The missed season may have cost Wright some development and we are in uncharted waters when it comes to evaluating NHL prospects during a pandemic which makes it harder to find a comparable.

Slipping a couple of slots at the top of the draft doesn’t necessarily mean a player isn’t ready for the NHL. However, recent precedent might warrant questioning whether Wright is ready for the NHL.

The New York Rangers took Alexis LaFreniere first overall in the 2020 draft and he has yet to produce at the NHL level – scoring 21 points as a rookie and 31 last season. Wright appears to have NHL skills, but would another development year be the best option for him?

Where will Wright end up this year?

Despite any reservations that those outside the franchise have, all signs seem to point to Wright starting the season with the Kraken in the NHL.

But, say he is returned to the OHL and dominates the league. Will that help him develop into a better player? It may help with 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 roster spot as Francis said but if the Kraken treat it as a development season and don’t expect high production from a numbers standpoint, and feel they can get him regular ice time, there’s no reason to not play him.

Ice time is key. Francis and Hakstol need to find consistent ice time for him and if they can’t then they should send him back to the OHL, where he’ll get all the playing time in the world. There is little benefit to scratching him every night or limited his playing time. Seattle is a team that should be able to find him time. The Kraken have a lot of forward depth but are not so loaded that Wright would be relegated to a fourth line, under ten minutes a night, role.

It’s exciting to think about the idea of Wright and Matty Beniers locking down the two top center positions for the Kraken but patience is key. This season the expectations for Wright should be low. Let him learn the game without worrying about points and goals, which could be sparse due to his inexperience.

If handled correctly, it will pay of dividends in the future for both Wright and the Kraken.

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