What do the Kraken do now with rookie Shane Wright back from AHL?
The 14 days that rookie Kraken center Shane Wright had in the American Hockey League are over, and he was back in Seattle on the ice for practice Monday. Along with that, many of the same questions are still unanswered.
Will he play more now that he’s back? Will he stick in the NHL or ultimately get sent back to junior hockey? What’s next for Wright?
“Nothing yet,” Wright said when asked what the future plans are for him. “Just kind of taking it one game at a time and just kind of focus on what’s here now and not really worry too much about what the future holds.”
Head coach Dave Hakstol shed some light on the immediate future when he announced that Wright would be in the lineup Tuesday when the Montreal Canadiens come to the Climate Pledge Arena.
“Good to have him back with the group,” Hakstol said. “He was really upbeat, he was excited to be back, and he had a good practice.”
There is a certain level of irony for Tuesday’s game in that Wright will play his first NHL game since Nov. 5 against a Montreal franchise that chose Slovakian forward Juraj Slafkovsky instead of Wright with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Wright, who many expected to be the top pick in the draft but fell to the Kraken at No. 4 overall, is indifferent about the matchup, saying Monday that it was just another game.
The same goes for Hakstol, who refused to take the bait when asked about any rivalry with the Canadiens.
“You guys will talk about it a lot I guess and we won’t talk about it a whole bunch,” Hakstol said when asked by media about the matchup. “That’s just pure fact. I mean, you can make it a great story if you like from your standpoint; it’s not a story from our standpoint. Shane’s going through all the processes here, he went down (to the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds). He’s played really well for five games. Gonna have a good opportunity to play tomorrow. I want him to be excited to play for our team tomorrow.”
Unable to find consistent playing time for Wright, who has averaged just over eight minutes of ice time when he has played, the Kraken used a loophole to get him in a handful of AHL games the past two weeks. Because they had healthy scratched him for five consecutive games, they could send him down for 14 days as part of a conditioning assignment.
Wright performed well, scoring four goals on his first five shots, and comes back with the confidence of having played consistent minutes that were ultimately successful.
NOW 3-1🔥 pic.twitter.com/oLp518wQuu
— Coachella Valley Firebirds (@Firebirds) November 27, 2022
“I think it’s made a huge difference,” Wright said. “Definitely getting a lot of confidence down there. It’s nice to be able to play a lot of high minutes, get a lot of touches, and play the puck as well and just kind of play my game and be myself and regain my confidence in myself and my abilities and hopefully bring that back up here to Seattle.”
What now for Wright?
There has been a ton of scrutiny, mostly from outside of Seattle, about how the Kraken have handled the development of the 18-year-old Wright to date. How accurate that scrutiny is won’t be known for a while, but the questions remain.
Assuming Wright does play Tuesday, it will be Game 8 for him. Once he plays game 10, the first year of his entry-level contract gets burned and he’ll have two years left on an original standard three years.
There are a few options that the Kraken have.
They can try to find a way to get him in the lineup more consistently, but the problem is that for Wright to play, someone has to sit. With Morgan Geekie still day-to-day with an upper-body injury there is room now – although Hakstol did not say if that was who Wright was replacing after practice.
Outside of injury the Kraven have been playing well, with all parts contributing just as before Wright’s AHL stint, leaving no obvious path to more playing time on the NHL squad.
Seattle could also loan Wright to Team Canada for the World Junior Championship.
“Anytime you can represent your country on the World Junior stage, something you grew up watching, never really something you can pass up too easy,” Wright said. “No final decision has been made yet but it’s definitely always a tough thing to pass up if the opportunity comes for sure.”
Hockey Canada released its camp roster Monday. Wright wasn’t on the list because technically he’s still in the NHL and the Kraken have not yet given their blessing for him to play there. Undoubtedly, Wright would be part of that camp and the team.
He has played for Canada in the past. Most notably, he was on the U18 World Championship squad in 2021, scoring nine goals and 14 points in five games. Wright was going to be on Team Canada for the 2022 World Junior Championships, too, but the tournament was canceled due to a COVID outbreak.
Playing in the tournament this season could benefit the young Wright. He’d be playing against many NHL draft picks and the best under-20 players in the world. Going to camp with Canada would also allow him to play with a lifelong friend in New York Rangers prospect Brennan Orthman, who has been invited.
It figures that Wright would play a lot in the World Juniors so it won’t be surprising if this is ultimately the next step for Wright and the Kraken to explore.
Even if Seattle sends him to play for Canada, it would just be kicking the can down the road a bit. When the tournament ends after the new year, the same questions will remain.
The other option the Kraken have is to send Wright back to junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. A player starting in the NHL and being sent down mid-year is not unprecedented. Current stars Leon Draisaitl and Matthew Dumba were both sent back to the Western Hockey League halfway through their rookie seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild, respectively.
Returning to the OHL doesn’t make a lot of sense for Wright on the surface. The question is how Wright will improve his game while dominating junior hockey players. The OHL is a top league but it’s not the same as the AHL and of course, the NHL.
Wright played well in Coachella, gaining valuable playing time and experience, but it really hasn’t changed his situation with the Kraken. We still don’t know exactly what the clear path for Wright is.
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