Is there any reason to worry about Shane Wright’s slip to 4th overall?

If you’re like me, you had already accepted that you don’t win the draft lottery every year. The lotto balls fell in the favor of the New Jersey Devils, who are apparently the exception to that rule, and the Seattle Kraken slid down a spot, picking at No. 4. It meant picking from the second tier of potential prospects — because historically the top two picks have been much more successful than even the third pick. The Kraken would still likely get NHL-caliber players, but timelines and expectations had to be adjusted. Obviously the top two prospects would be long gone, with the team selecting second overall happily choosing the player the first passed on.

Well Kraken fans, that sure as heck didn’t happen! Shane Wright didn’t go first, which surprised some. And then he didn’t go second, the Devils of New Jersey electing to draft for positional need. That’s a huge mistake but maybe Simon Nemec will prove me wrong in the years to come. At that point, you knew the Kraken were getting a player few expected to be available, Logan Cooley. A solid prospect out of the U.S. Developmental program, he would have been a great addition to the roster. But somehow Arizona also passed on the player who has been the consensus No. 1 prospect for most of the past two years. The Coyotes got a stud in Cooley, but I tend to think they’d made their minds up, expecting him to be the guy available, and weren’t flexible enough to pivot when Wright fell in their laps.

All that craziness happened in around a ten minute span, and suddenly Shane Wright was wearing a Kraken Jersey.

Why did he fall to Seattle?

The natural worry is that three other NHL teams either saw more potential in the players they took than they did in Wright, or that they saw something wrong with Wright himself. Both are possibilities, and only time will tell who made the right choices on July 7th, 2022. But it’s worth remembering that these are three of the league’s worst franchises. That’s how you get the chance to select a top-3 pick. The Kraken, as an expansion team, have an excuse — the others are sitting where their ownership and management put them. I know New Jersey won the lottery, but they’ve been bad for a while now, and I seriously question their judgement at the podium.

Wright will forever be a part of the Covid generation, those minor league prospects whose development and production was interrupted by a global pandemic. His stats page with the Kingston Frontenacs shows a blank spot where 2020-21 should have been, and that means he lost a year of development. A year of opportunities to produce great plays, understand the deeper strategies of the game, and perhaps most importantly, make mistakes and learn from them. He also didn’t get an opportunity to shine in a best-on-best tournament, when the IIHF World Juniors were postponed after Covid spread through the teams in attendance. Wright caught the virus himself shortly thereafter, and Covid’s range of effects undoubtedly limited him to some degree.

His junior stats still took a significant jump, producing 50% more in his draft year than he had in 2019-20. If those had been his 2020-21 stats, followed by yet another leap forward this season, he’d be wearing rouge, blanc et bleu and playing in Montréal. But this is how things worked out, and as far as Kraken fans should be concerned, we won the lottery after all.

Wright addressed some of the talk about him as his clear cut No. 1 status was wavering, suggesting his cerebral approach to the game could be mistaken for passivity. That, combined with a drop in goal production (from 39 to 32), might have been the reason the Canadiens went in another direction. But Shane Wright is one of a handful of players ever granted exceptional status by the Ontario Hockey League, allowing them to play at the age of 15 instead of 16. The rest of that list is as follows:

Obviously we hope Wright is more like the first three and less like Sean Day. But Day flared out early, unable even at the OHL level, to produce offence on a consistent basis. Wright played a solid season, NHL equivalencies putting him at around 40 points if he were in the league today. Those aren’t superstar numbers, but he doesn’t need to be a superstar yet. The last forward to win the Calder Memorial trophy, Kirll Kaprisov, collected 51 points in his rookie year. Not such a huge leap, especially when one considers all the hurdles and interruptions Wright has faced prior to today.

The newest member of the Kraken is going to have something to prove at the rescheduled World Junior championships in Edmonton, Alberta this August. He’ll be playing alongside another phenom, Connor Bedard, who will be looking to cement his own status as the best player available at next year’s draft. We should expect Wright to show the truth to his critics, and the teams that passed him by. He’s a great hockey player, and a victim of circumstances, whose ceiling exceeds all but a few members of his draft class. And the Kraken are lucky to have him.