For the last several drafts, there has not been much of a legitimate question as to who would go first overall. Owen Power, Alexis Lafreniere, Jack Hughes, and Rasmus Dahlin were touted as #1 picks from the beginning of their draft years and ended up being the #1 pick in their respective drafts. Sure, there have been some attempts by fans and media to question that consensus; but when push came to shove (or mock drafts were put up), those guys still went first. The last time there was a legitimate uncertainty over first overall was in 2017. In that year, Nico Hischier was picked over that year’s frontrunner, Nolan Patrick. That turned out to be the correct call. The subject of today’s profile, Shane Wright, has been tabbed as the potential first overall pick in 2022 since he entered the OHL as a 15-year old. Will he actually be the first overall pick? Let us find out who he is, what makes him so good to be touted as the first pick in this year’s draft, and what could cause him to slip out of that spot.
Who is Shane Wright?
Shane Wright was born on January 5, 2004 per his Elite Prospects Profile. He is listed at 6’1” and 187 pounds. He shoots right. He has played for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League since he was 15 years old. Wright was able to obtain exceptional player status - the status created for John Tavares - to enter the major junior league a year earlier than anyone else. It was not like he could do anything more at the U-16 AAA level with the Don Mills Flyers after dropping 150 points in 72 games as well as crushing the OHL Cup with 18 points.
To write that Wright hit the ice running at Kingston would be an understatement. He was not only given prime ice time; he was given an ‘A’ on his jersey. Yes, he was considered a leader on a U-20 team at the age of 15. In the 2019-20 season, Wright captivated the junior hockey world by leading Kingston in points with 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games. Yes, he scored 39 goals on 198 shots - 10 of which were on the power play and 2 shorthanded. While 66 points put him tied for 40th in league scoring, no rookie was close. Mason McTavish and Declan McDonnell both finished with at least 10 fewer goals and 24 fewer points. Wright won the OHL rookie of the year and the CHL rookie of the year awards.
Unfortunately, that 2019-20 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That same pandemic wiped out the 2020-21 season for the OHL. Wright did not play competitively in that season. This is not to say he was just hanging about and noodling on his guitar. No, he was clearly keeping in shape and preparing for the World Under-18 Championships in 2021. He was named to Team Canada, named as their captain despite being one of the younger players on the roster at age 17, and put up 9 goals and 5 assists in just 5 games as Canada won the Gold that year. That is not a typo, he put up 9 goals and 5 assists in just five games. He was named as one of Canada’s top 3 players, as he shared the scoring lead on Canada with the wonderkid Connor Bedard.
The OHL returned for a full season in 2021-22. The expectation was that Wright would crush it. He did - sort of. Wright did not immediately come out as the scoring monster he showed in his rookie season. Questions abounded about whether it was just a cold streak (it was) or whether he was struggling. Wright finished the season with 63 games, 32 goals, and 62 assists for a massive 94 points. That placed him eighth in the league in scoring. All seven players ahead of him were older than him, including the already drafted Wyatt Johnston and older players like Wright’s teammate Lucas Edmonds. Wright was also a top-ten shooter in the OHL with 260 shots recorded. Hardly indicative of a guy struggling with the pace of play at the OHL. Kingston made it to the second round of the playoffs and were eliminated in 5 games by North Bay. Wright remained a producer with 3 goals and 11 assists in 14 playoff games. Only Francesco Arcuri and Zayde Wisdom put up more points in the playoffs on Kingston. Wright was named to Team Canada again for the 2022 World Junior Championships - which were cancelled just after two games played.
Wright was an important part of his team all season. He certainly will get praise in the coaches polls, when they come out. However, this does get to why there is less enthusiasm about Wright going at first overall. Since he was seen as a potential #1 pick for multiple years, there were more eyes on him compared to most prospects and expectations were much higher. The recent first overall picks had some accomplishment or trait that made them stand above the rest of the draft class. Owen Power was a significant player as a freshman in college in addition to being absolutely massive. Alexis Lafreniere rampaged through the QMJHL, was named CHL Player of the Year twice, and was the WJC MVP in his draft year - as an underage player. Jack Hughes set records for the USNTDP on one of the most talent-loaded USNTDP teams in recent history. Rasmus Dahlin was a top-ten scorer among defensemen in the SHL and averaged just over 19 minutes per game in his draft year. Wright does not have that accolade or notable quality. As a result, there is the larger sense from those who rank and follow prospects that he is the top pick because no one else has really passed him. Not so much that he secured it. Although, your mileage may vary about a certain Olympics MVP and 2022 World Championship standout.
This may cause you to scratch your head a bit. It did for me. OK, I get that the expectation or hope was that Wright would do to the OHL what Lafreniere did to the QMJHL in 2020. Still, is an average of 1.4 points per game in all Kingston competitions in 2021-22 seems like a bit much to frame as somewhat of a disappointment. At least in my view. To put his 2021-22 production in perspective, let us go to Pick224.
Per Pick224, which somehow only gave Wright 257 shots on net for the season, only draft eligible forward took more shots than Wright in the entire class: Viktor Neuchev, who took an unbelievable 363 in 61 games in the MHL (he scored 40 goals). That was it. In terms of total points per season games, Wright comes in seventh in the draft class at 1.46 per game. I would argue that Wright doing that in the OHL is tougher than Logan Cooley’s 1.5 per game in 14 USHL games, Danila Yurov’s 1.56 in 23 MHL games, Alex Sotek’s 1.82 in 17 Slovakia U-20 games, and Liam Ohgren’s 1.93 in 30 Swedish U-20 games. The only CHL player with a higher point per game average was Jordan Dumais; but, as evidence of points not being everything, he is not sniffing the first round. Even if you focus on primary points (goals and primary assists) per game, Wright’s 1.04 per game is still among the higher end of this draft class and, again, those ahead of him did not play as much as Wright in leagues arguably not much better (or better at all) than the OHL.
This is all to point out that Wright is among production leaders in this year’s draft class. Maybe one could argue he should be the leader, but that’s how it goes in draft classes with so many leagues and situations. His high ranking among the draft eligible players in terms of production does support the larger argument of Wright being first by default instead of being that much better than anyone else. And outside of that 2021 World U-18 performance, Wright does not have that moment or achievement to bolster his spot further. Still, the young man was not brought into the OHL at a younger-than-usual age for no reason and he demonstrated as such prior to the pandemic. Wright has a high skill level. It just not so easily noticed - which also contributes to his high prospect ranking coming with more shrugs than hype.
Where is Shane Wright Ranked?
As stated multiple times in this post: Shane Wright is still seen as the one to go first overall this year.
- #1 North American skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)
- #1 - Elite Prospects (May ranking)
- #1 - Craig Button, TSN (May 10, 2022 ranking)
- #1 - FC Hockey (Spring ranking)
- #1 - Smaht Scouting (Final ranking)
- #1 - Will Scouch (April ranking)
- #1 - Recruit Scouting (March ranking)
- #1 - Draft Prospects Hockey (Final ranking)
- #1 - The Hockey Writers - Peter Baracchini (May 7, 2022 ranking)
- #1 - The Hockey Writers - Matthew Zator (April 5, 2022 ranking)
- #1 - The Hockey Writers - Andrew Forbes (March 22, 2022 ranking)
- #2 - The Athletic - Corey Pronman (May 31, 2022 ranking - $)
- #1 - The Athletic - Scott Wheeler (June 6, 2022 ranking - $)
What is not so clear from just this list of mostly ‘#1’s is the resignation for it. Elite Prospects helpfully posted a video of their staff discussing their May rankings. Lauren Kelly, who scouts Ontario, said it herself, “Once again, the gap has probably closed between him [Wright] and the couple of prospects vying for second and third, but, again,...I don’t think anyone has passed him yet.” In Will Scouch’s rankings, he wrote, “Wright is still #1 for me, but it isn’t The Shane Wright draft.” Pronman made some waves at The Athletic by being the first high profile list to put Wright second. The malaise is not universal. Craig Button has been consistent in stating that he thinks Wright is the best player in the draft. Even if it is with not a lot of enthusiasm, it is a lot of ‘#1’s.
It is enough to make you, one of the People Who Matter, wonder why this profile even exists? Surely, he is going to go first overall, right? Rumors are out there that Montreal’s management may not agree. Further, the Devils flew in some of the top prospects in this draft class for interviews on June 5 - including Wright. (Additionally, some of the videos from the combine put up by the Devils’ official Youtube account focus on Wright.) It is not impossible for opinions to shift within a month of the draft. It happened to Sean Couturier, Seth Jones, and Nolan Patrick among others. It might even happen to Wright, especially if any rumors pick up out of Montreal that they prefer Juraj Slafkovsky or Logan Cooley to Wright. To that end, there is value for the Devils fans, the People Who Matter, to know why Wright is a big deal beyond what the experts and enthusiasts think.
What Others Say About Shane Wright
There are a lot of comparisons of Shane Wright to someone like Patrice Bergeron (who won his fifth Selke trophy earlier this month). Even Wright himself would agree with the comparison. This is what he said to the press at the NHL Combine:
“I think Bergeron is a really good comparison for me,” he said. “I really like the way he plays. He’s an elite offensive player, no doubt about that. He can score goals and make plays. But what really gets noticed for him is his defensive play and his ability to play 200 feet and play in all different situations. I think that’s a type player I see myself as, someone who can do a lot of good things right and can be trusted in a lot of different situations.”
About 32 NHL teams and some teams that do not exist yet would absolutely love to draft a Bergeron-like player. However, this comparison is not without merit when you read and see what other say about Wright.
Starting off, let us go back to that Elite Prospects ranking video. I already quoted Lauren Kelly as an example of a lack of enthusiasm over Wright at first overall. Let me also quote the myriad of positives she did state about Wright, 40 seconds into the video:
“Super elite connecter, high end hockey sense and IQ, just a really intelligent player. Just plays the game in the right way. Super smart in his decisions. Maybe there have been some concerns about the pace, and maybe it is a little bit slower in the OHL than maybe what we would like to see out of a first overall pick. But I think it is just a matter of him playing smart instead of trying to be involved everywhere on the ice where he being that guy who goes all over the place and trying to make something happen, he’s taking his time, he’s reading the play, he is feeling out what opposing players are going to do. So I think just his intelligence, very reliable player in both ends of the ice. I think that’s why he has continued to stay atop the rankings all year long.”
David St-Louis concurred and went more into the Bergeron comparison, which was something JD Burke initially brought up. St-Louis agrees in that both players do not play a flashy game. He notes that Wright’s defense is not as “emergent” as Bergeron. Which makes sense as he is an 18-year old in the OHL. I do not think anyone’s defensive game is going to be on par with a five-time Selke winner in major junior hockey. More from St-Louis later in this post. And, again, be prepared for more Bergeron references.
Let us continue to Jordan Malette’s report at Smaht Scouting about Wright. This was written in December 2021, so it is a good reflection of how he was seen during his most recent season. Malette does not go into the details like Tessler does, but this part of it sums up the appeal of Wright.
At 17 years old, Shane displays numerous habits that are already on a pro-level, which is rare to find in young players. For starters, his puck touches are calculated and meaningful. Wright never tries to do too much and constantly moves the puck quickly to teammates in a better position. Wright has incredible awareness to go along with these puck habits, enabling him to pass to teammates who the opposition does not think is a likely recipient of pass. The package of methodical touches, awareness, and short possessions makes Shane an excellent puck distributor and play driver.
This is actually really high praise. Finding a player who already grasps and demonstrates the concept that he does not need to be always involved to make an impact is a great find. Especially if that player is very young. It may help facilitate his transition to pro hockey. Of course, the concern about pace at the time was fleshed out further by Malette:
On the one hand, he will not have ample time and space to drive dangerous areas every shift at the NHL level, so learning to be particular on when to pass vs. carry will pay dividends later. And on the other hand, you’d expect a player of his caliber to be able to push play into the dangerous areas more frequently in the OHL. Whichever conclusion you land on, Wright has the talent level to be more assertive with the puck and drive aggressively into open space in the offensive zone. However, he appears reluctant to do so, which may stem from a lack of confidence as he hasn’t played in so long. Some of the doubts around Wright would disappear if he were to begin leveraging his skills to create dangerous opportunities for himself on a more regular basis.
This is ultimately the core issue with the concern that Kelly brought up and others have raised during the 2021-22 season. Had Wright pushed harder, he would have had more goals (Malette does think Wright’s shot is “lethal,” more highlights, more to further cement his status at first overall. I also do not fully agree with it since, again, Wright still ended up with the second most points of everyone who is draft eligible for 2022, still finished top ten in the OHL in scoring, and the last international tourney he was in that he completed saw him drop 9 goals in five games. Like Kelly and St-Louis, I question a slower pace as a sign of being reluctant given his intelligence. Sometimes, a play just is not there and it does not make sense to go all in trying to make it.
Related to this, Brock Otten of OHL Prospects (and, you know, McKeen’s Hockey) wrote this about Wright in his mid-season Top 50 OHL Prospects. Otten did rank Wright first, but added some concerns about Wright’s season to go with the pluses that led to his first ranking among OHLers:
When you compare Wright’s play this year versus previous years (his rookie OHL year, his U16 year with Don Mills), the one thing missing from Wright’s game is pace. Deliberate or not, Wright is not attacking the offensive zone with the same feverish pace that he has previously. In a way, it has made his game somewhat predictable. He leads the charge across the blueline, gains the zone, uses a c-cut or a pivot to alter his pace and assesses the ice to find a passing lane. What teams are doing now, are doubling him as he crosses the blueline, using the defender to cut off his advance and a support forward to take away his time and space quickly. Part of the issue for him here is that while he is certainly a strong skater (his top linear speed is excellent), his explosiveness and ability to use linear crossovers to build speed while altering direction are only average to slightly above average. This is causing the play to bottle up for Wright a lot. The good news is that Wright is incredibly intelligent...easily one of the smartest players that I’ve seen come through the OHL. He finds a way to crack this coverage with quick touch passes and quick hands. He plays a very mature game and a very pro ready game inside the opposing blueline; most of his decisions are made quickly and efficiently and are predicated on his linemates making necessary reads and finding those openings in coverage. Wright also possesses a fantastic wrist shot that should see him score his fair share of goals in the NHL, especially when you combine it with his instincts. Defensively, the awareness is top notch. The physicality is not. He has the potential to develop into a Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews type of player, but he’ll need to learn to be harder on puck carriers than he is to become an elite two-way force at the NHL level.
Reading through this - and especially Steve Kournianos’ midseason report at The Draft Analyst - it seems rather nitpicky to me. However, when the discussion is about a prospect projected to go first overall out of 224 players, one really needs to get into the tiny details. The expectations are higher. First overall picks need to be not only NHL players, but very good NHL players. Sometimes, I think it does get overblown - is Sean Couturier really less than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - but I cannot say it is not warranted. And, again, given the timing of when Otten’s midseason list went up, that was the concern. Even if Wright showed up better by the end of the season, those doubts may linger in the minds of the scouts and decision-makers to this day.
Those doubts remained with Otten. While he put him first in his list of Top 50 OHL Prospects for the draft, he wrote the following:
Did he truly take a step forward this year in his progression? I don’t believe so. Stagnation is never a great thing to see from a prospect, but when you’re already a terrific player, I don’t think it’s the end of the world. The criticisms of Wright this year are one hundred percent warranted. Yes, his pace of play needs to increase. He became too predictable to cover this year with his habit of altering pace to a crawl. This was not always an approach he used. He used to attack the offensive zone and his ability to quickly alter pace (either way) was a standout quality and allowed him to keep defenders off balance. But since altering his approach, team defensive approaches have been able to take away his space early inside the blueline and make him less effective. Yes, his physical intensity level needs to increase. His defensive instincts are fantastic. But he will never be a standout defensive player at the pro level without becoming more difficult to play against.
Harsh. But again, when the discussion is about whether someone is going first, then every doubt gets magnified. Otten did have some positives to write about Wright:
All that said, Wright is still an incredibly intelligent playmaking center. His game is tailored to the pro level with how quick he makes decisions with the puck, operating a step ahead of the opposition (and unfortunately ahead of his own teammates). His shot is elite. His skating ability is great (even if he doesn’t always use it to his advantage).
And this is all desirable, even amid his own doubts about the player in his praise. Again, to me, I’m not fully put off. If not showing enough pace still yields nearly 260 shots in 63 games - an average of over 4 per game - and over 90 points, then I am going to be real excited when he learns to push the tempo. If he is able to make coverages off the puck and just needs to learn to be a more physical (something St-Louis pointed out in the EP video), then great, because that is absolutely teachable. The skating bits may be an issue - but, again, that did not hinder Sean Couturier very much. If it has, I have yet to see it. I understand that the potential first overall pick gets more attention and, by extension, more nitpicking of his game. Some of it seems a bit much, though.
Let me close this section with the last word given to Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports, who not only thinks Wright will be in the NHL next season but could compete for the Calder. Kerr, among others, had a lot to say about Wright’s shot:
Wright can do it all offensively. He is a pure goal scorer with an excellent array of shots and a lightning-quick release. His wrist and snapshots are very heavy and the quick release can fool goaltenders. He also has a good one-timer. Wright has a knack for getting open and finding space to get his shot off. He also has the quick stickhandling to toe-drag the puck and opens up shooting lanes. Wright can use those quick hands to score goals in tight to the net as well. He can pounce on a rebound and put it in a tight spot. He also has the hand-eye coordination to get tip-ins on teammates’ shots or to bury a quick one-timer on a pass. Wright can also deke a goalie in tight.
This should allay anyone worried that Wright is just a thinker on the ice. He has skills to make goalies and defense suffer. Again, the complaint was that he was not making them suffer enough - not that he was not capable or will not be able to do so at the next level. Kerr’s profiles end with a stylistic comparison and to the surprise of no one reading this so far, it is a comparison to Bergeron.
A Little Video
Back in February, David St-Louis narrated this video from Elite Prospects detailing why Wright is seen as this top prospect at all. It is not particularly long at 7:13 long, but it gets to the heart of why he is so highly touted - and also why there is less enthusiasm for it compared to recent first overall picks.
This video did a lot to convince me that Wright really is a cut above in this draft class. St-Louis highlights with many clips and snippets to show how smart of a player Wright is on the ice. How he is drawing defenders to help his linemates attack. How he is providing support on the back end, which leads to a zone exit. How he can turn a stop on defense into an exit and offensive rush quite quickly. How he does not get greedy when space is available; taking it when the opportunity is right. These are things that, I would think, are hard to teach any player at any level. When players are said to need time to develop, it is, in part, to figure some of these concepts out. Wright already has it in his head to do so As St-Louis stated, this is indeed highly projectible to the next level and it is the kind of thing that will keep Wright in pro hockey for a very long (and potentially lucrative) time.
For a fuller “profile” style video, check out this 10:43 long video from NHL Draft Pros going over Wright’s stats, on-ice metrics (which I’m surprised are available for OHL hockey and, unsurprisingly, Wright was good there too), and aspects of his game:
And for those who wanted a refresher of Wright’s nine-goal performance at the 2021 World U-18s, here is a compilation video of all 14 of his points from that tourney:
An Opinion of Sorts
Montreal should draft Shane Wright first overall. The Canadiens are really bad and can justify a selection of a defenseman, Simon Nemec or David Jiricek, to go first. They could also identify Juraj Slafkovsky or Logan Cooley as having similar upsides as forwards and pick either. But if they want to pick a player to help them out the most and have a long career at being a good hockey player, then they really should pick Shane Wright first. If, for some reason, Wright is not the first overall pick, Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils staff should briskly walk to the podium in Montreal and announce that the New Jersey Devils select, from the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, center Shane Wright.
Sure, I understand the malaise over Wright as a first overall pick. He put up a ton of points and shots - but it could have been more. His one big international tournament that he was allowed to complete was a bit overshadowed by Connor Bedard also dropping 14 points as an underage player. Wright’s biggest asset as a player is his intelligence on the ice - which is not easily noticed, much less able to be hyped up and marketed. It is the sort of thing that will make Wright play for a long time and become an important player. He could likely jump into the NHL and do fairly well in 2022-23. But he may not change or elevate a franchise as past first overall picks have been thought to do. If your bar for the first overall pick needs to turn a team around, then Wright may not meet that bar. Fine. I do not think anyone in the 2022 NHL Draft class will do that either. I also do not think a potential first overall pick needs to be downgraded because he is not Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Hughes, Alexis Lafreniere, or Owen Power. Neither are Juraj Slafkovsky, Logan Cooley, or anyone else in this year’s class.
Still, we do not need to overthink this. Wright falling to the Devils at #2 would be a huge surprise - and an easy pick for the Devils to make. Really smart forwards with a great shot, good skating ability, and already knows how to operate in all three zones are assets at any age. To have one at age 18 on a cheap entry level contract for three years is incredibly valuable. The things Wright needs to work on to reach his potential are absolutely workable and the Devils staff would almost have to try to mess that up. The Devils should absolutely take Wright without hesitation if he somehow is available at second overall.
I will also throw out this hot take: I think Wright and many other prospects in this and last year’s draft class may end up being better than projected. Having a season partially or totally wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic did rob these players from important developmental seasons. However, this means they may have more room to grow and less wear and tear to hinder them. How a team develops their prospects is important as it is. For the 2022 class, it will be crucial. In the case of Wright, he may end up being better than some suggest.
I can already foresee the complaints. “They would have too many centers.” “They cannot just keep adding offensive forwards.” “The Devils need help elsewhere.” Look. There is no such thing as having too many offensively minded players or too much offensive talent. There is no team in any sport where “too talented” is a weakness. The teams that tend to compete in the postseason, contend for Cups, and claw out attention in big media markets have more than just a line or two that can score. Wright would add a dimension to the attack to make the already pretty deadly offense of the Devils prettier and deadlier. Yes, boy. Camp is where the positions can be figured out, and even that is not that crucial because once the puck is dropped, the forwards have their assignments. It’s not even LW, C, and RW anymore; it’s F1, F2, and F3 in most playbooks. Adding Wright can do nothing but make the Devils better. Even if the cynical-sounding, “Well, he’s more of a Nico Hischier than any other first round pick,” turns out to be true, we should be thrilled because Nico Hischier is a very good player and the Devils could have two of those if Montreal does not take Wright.
I still think Montreal does not overthink it and takes Shane Wright. If they do not, then it is my humble opinion that the Devils need to take him.
Whether you think he is would love to know your take on Shane Wright in the comments. What do you think of Wright’s 2021-22 season? What did you like reading about him? What did you not like reading about him? Would you want the Devils to take him if he is available? Why would Montreal not want him? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Shane Wright in the comments. Thank you for reading.