Kraken Breakdown: Has Seattle handled top prospect Shane Wright right?
Just prior to the Kraken making history with an undefeated seven-game, 14-day road trip, the team made a major decision with its top prospect, Shane Wright.
Seattle pulled the trigger to re-assign the fourth overall pick from the 2022 NHL Draft back to the Ontario Hockey League and the Kingston Frontenacs fresh off him helping lead Team Canada to gold in the World Junior Championship.
What does this mean? Will it benefit Wright and the Kraken? What’s next for the 19-year-old?
Let’s break down the situation.
When Wright was drafted, the Kraken wanted to give him plenty of opportunity to make the roster as a then 18-year-old. He had a decent training camp and preseason and did in fact start the season on the roster.
He wasn’t the best player and obviously had some developing to do, which Seattle hoped he could do at the NHL level. The problem for Wright is that opportunities were rare with the Kraken starting well and getting contributions from the entire lineup.
Wright had a hard time finding playing time as coach Dave Hakstol, trying to win games, deferred to more experienced and productive players. When Wright did make the lineup, he played limited minutes, making it hard to contribute much.
He was able to gain experience through practice, and he appeared to soak in the NHL coaching he received. Wright’s work ethic and positive attitude were on full display daily even though he wasn’t playing during games.
Looking to get him playing time, the Kraken found a way to send him to the Coachella Valley Firebirds of the American Hockey League on a ‘rehab’ assignment. Wright, who is too young to be eligible for a full-time AHL assignment, was allowed to spend 14 days with the Firebirds, resulting in him playing five games.
He scored four goals in those five games, showing the skill that led to him being a high NHL Draft pick. When he returned to the Kraken, he played one game and scored his first NHL goal.
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) December 7, 2022
The Kraken next loaned Wright to Team Canada for the World Junior Championship where he was named team captain and helped the Canadians win a gold medal.
When the tournament ended, the Kraken found themselves in the same situation they were in before loaning Wright to Canada, with no obvious path to him earning playing time. The team was still winning, in a playoff position, and had also added a forward in Eeli Tolvanen who has been contributing by scoring goals.
Ultimately, general manager Ron Francis decided regular playing time was the answer and made the call to return Wright to junior hockey. Kingston, the team he was with the last couple of seasons, is looking to rebuild and almost immediately traded Wright to the contending Windsor Spitfires.
If you are waiting for Wright’s return to Seattle, it’s going to be a while. By sending him back to major junior, he can not be recalled until after his season with Windsor is over. The hope is that season ends after a long playoff run and maybe a Memorial Cup appearance in May.
Why sending Wright back is positive
It’s been the debate since Day 1 of the season: “If they’re not going to play him, then they need to send him down” was the cry from many self-proclaimed player development experts. Most of that criticism came from outside of the market by people who were not close to the situation.
That criticism makes sense and is the standard path for young prospects. Very few 18-year-olds make it in their first year after being drafted.
But the Kraken may have handled it beautifully.
By not sending Wright back at the start of the season, they were able to get him NHL experience. He received top-end training at practice, got to experience pro hockey in the AHL, then the ultra-competition that the World Junior Championships provide.
Wright now takes all that experience with him to Windsor and should play hockey with big stakes on hand. All of this should help Wright when he returns to Seattle at this fall’s training camp, looking to establish himself again.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) January 15, 2023
The move is not unprecedented.
Seattle only needs to look at Matty Beniers and what an extra year of development did for his game. Beniers leads all rookies in scoring and is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year after he decided to return to college for one final season following his first-round selection by the Kraken in 2021.
There are other notable players who were sent back after a brief introduction to the NHL.
The Kraken are in Edmonton on Tuesday night, and one of the key players for the Oilers is center Leon Draisaitl. Selected third overall during the 2014 draft, Draisaitl made the Oilers roster at 18. He played 37 games that season, scoring twice and recording seven assists. Edmonton decided to return him to junior to further improve his game and he was ultimately traded from the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders to the Kelowna Rockets.
With the Rockets, Draisaitl won a league championship and went all the way to the Memorial Cup championship before losing. Since then, he’s become one of the NHL’s top players, topping the 50-goal mark twice and reaching 100 points three times.
There are other players, like Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, who were returned after a half-season stint in the NHL and have since become All-Stars.
This is not to suggest that Wright will turn into Draisaitl, but playing in the OHL against good talent after the experience he’s picked up with Seattle, Coachella Valley, Team Canada, and now Windsor will all add to his already high-end skill.
A bonus of sending Wright back after eight games is that the Kraken avoid having to pay the first year of his entry-level contract. The first year of his contract does not kick in until he’s played more than nine NHL games. So by making this move, the Kraken add a year before having to re-sign Wright.
What’s next for Wright?
The trade to Windsor will give Wright the chance to play in big games against good talent. It’s not NHL-level talent, it’s younger guys, but the OHL is one of the top producers of NHL players in the world.
Windsor currently leads the league’s West Division with a 26-9-3-1 record, mostly achieved before they added Wright to the lineup. Besides Wright, the Spitfires have four other NHL Draft picks on the roster, which helps them be competitive.
How has Wright fared so far?
In his first three games, Wright has four goals and two assists for six points, so safe to say he’s going to be an asset to an already good team.
The Kraken hope Wright and Windsor can win a championship that will add to what may have been an unconventional season, one that ultimately may pay off as Wright continues to develop his game.