Watching the Seattle Kraken battle the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night, in their final preseason game, a number of things seemed clear. First, the team did not look completely overmatched against the presumptive No. 1 seed in the Pacific Division. Early on, they were outshooting Edmonton’s high octane offense 8-2, and while the shot ratio tilted to the Oilers’ side over the course of the game, just as the score did, Seattle was in the thick of it until the game’s final minutes.
On the positive side, Matty Beniers scored yet another goal, and the team’s powerplay, and passing in general, looked effective. Balancing that was the unforced error on the part of goaltender Philipp Grubauer that allowed the game to get away from the Kraken, as well as the reappearance of the “Answer-back” goal, where the Oilers’ Evander Kane scored the game-winning, go ahead goal while the in-rink announcer was still announcing Jared McCann’s powerplay marker. But what stuck out most of all was the play of Shane Wright.
We should temper expectations
To be clear, I was thrilled that Wright fell to the Kraken at the draft. It was the best possible outcome, and one I thought so unlikely that I’d settled on being happy with Logan Cooley or a big European defenseman. But watching Wright, suited up in Kraken colors and wearing the number 51, it seemed to me that he struggled against a NHL roster that looked to mirror what Edmonton will put forward in the regular season.
There was a moment when Wright got the puck along the boards, near the offensive blue-line, and he had both time and opportunity to put it back deep in the Oilers’ zone. Instead he tried to handle it, oblivious of the two Oiler players closing on him, one of which happened to be Leon Draisaitl. Wright lost the puck, and the play went down the ice in the wrong direction. That play summarized the night for Wright, who seemed to overthink each handling of the puck.
The Kraken don’t have a particularly deep roster. That’s the reason that a fringe NHLer like Daniel Sprong has likely found himself a spot. And that’s also how Wright seemed, from Day 1 of training camp, to be a lock to make the NHL squad. But with Seattle unlikely to win the Stanley Cup, there would be little harm in sending the team’s newest first round pick back to junior. He would dominate the lesser competition, potentially winning personal and team accolades in the process. And all those victories and rewards would build a level of confidence in the talented young player that he would bring to Seattle in 2023-24.
There would be the added benefit of pushing out unrestricted free agency by a season, a factor that could help the team in future years, but the more important consideration is Wright’s developmental curve. Few 18-year olds are ready for the biggest of leagues. Physically, mentally, and skill-wise, the extra year of development should see a more confident and complete player return to the ice at Climate Pledge Arena. In spite of all these great reasons, I don’t expect the Kraken to send Wright back to the Kingston Frontenacs, but I do think it would be the right move.