Shane Wright has been under the microscope of scouts for a half decade already, dating back to his time in the GTHL with a dominant Don Mills Flyers team. Yet, for the first time in his young hockey career, he has faced some criticism this year over his lack of production and development. This type of criticism for long hyped first overall selections is nothing new. John Tavares, for example, faced similar criticisms in his NHL draft year as a former exceptional player. There was concern that his skating ability, ability to play with pace, and his play in all three zones had not developed to the point that they needed to for him to be an NHL star. 377 goals later and a near point per game average over 900 NHL games suggests that he turned out alright.
That said, some of the criticism surrounding Wright’s development is legitimate. He could stand to play with pace more consistently. He could stand to increase his physical intensity level at both ends. He could stand to improve his explosiveness and ability to make skilled plays at high speed. However, most young players have components of their game that require fine tuning and attention. There is no doubt that Wright will put in the work to improve some of these things…which are improvable.
The basic foundation of Wright’s game is innate, a game based on intelligence, patience, awareness, and skill. He plays a very pro ready game with his ability to make quick decisions and improvise on the fly to create offensive chances for himself and linemates. His off puck play is generally a major strength and his shot grades out well above average. If Wright can put in the work necessary to improve some of the weaker points of his game, he still has a chance to be an NHL star. Just don’t expect him to be something that he is not. He is not a dynamic offensive wizard who will find himself on monthly highlight shows like Connor McDavid. However, he can be a longtime top six center who could be one of the better two-way forwards in the NHL in the mold of a Jonathan Toews or Patrice Bergeron. That is why he still deserves to be the top ranked player for the 2022 NHL Draft.
|Shane Wright||Date of Birth: 2004-01-05|
|Position: C, Shoots: R||H/W: 6'1", 185lbs|
|Stats to Date: (GP-G-A-PTS-PIMS)||Kingston Frontenacs, (25-12-19-31-12)|
Wright’s overall skating ability may be the most difficult thing to assess, and project given his patient approach at both ends of the ice. He controls pace so well with strong protection tendencies and quick touches that he rarely has to play the game at full speed. He is so calculated in his advancements and carries, and his positioning is so consistent and practical, that it masks his true quickness and speed. It is rare to see Wright explode into the offensive zone at full speed, making a mad dash to the net. Instead, you are more likely to see him slow the tempo as he crosses the blueline, using pivots to shield the puck and to open up the ice for him to dish off. His confidence on his edges is strong as he looks to alter direction or his angles in order to disguise his intentions. When defenders are aggressive in taking away his space, he shows off high end balance and agility, maintaining possession through stops, starts, turns, and pivots to keep defenders at bay.
That said, without question he could stand to add more explosiveness to his stride in order to be more advantageous. This is especially true when he attempts to use linear crossovers to build speed at the same time as altering his direction. Two years ago, when Wright took the league by storm as an exceptional rookie, he was much more aggressive in looking to use his speed to drive wide and to try to drive through opponents. Intentional or not, that part of his game has certainly faded. One has to wonder if during the year off in Ontario due to the pandemic, Wright focused on adding strength and bulk to improve his conditioning, but in turn it negatively impacted his explosiveness and speed. Or did the foot injury he suffered at the U18's severely impact his ability to further improve his skating this off-season? From a technical standpoint, Wright’s skating is not entirely flawed. Thus, it seems logical to suggest that Wright will at some point gain a speed advantage that he can utilize and at least become an above average NHL skater.
Here we see two clips of Wright from this season in a game against Oshawa. The first clip is a perfect example of a typical successful Wright zone entry. Gain the zone, alter pace, protect the puck, and find the open man. We see his ability to destroy a defender’s gap control and why he is so difficult to strip the puck from because of his agility. However, the second clip shows an aforementioned lack of explosiveness as he tries to use a linear crossover to gain the line. The Oshawa defense swallows him up and the result is a turnover.
Here are two clips of Wright from 2019, his exceptional rookie year. We see him attacking the offensive zone after he has already built-up speed and it makes him more dangerous as he attacks the net. One rush creates a terrific scoring chance and the other he scores on. This season, we have seen very little of this from Wright, as he consistently looks to alter pace to a crawl, rather than push it. Additionally, his strides do appear to build more power in these clips than they do in anything from this current season.
Outside of Wright’s vision and awareness, his shot is, without question, his best offensive tool. He generates velocity and elevation so quickly in his wrist and snap shots as his release gives him a major advantage in the home plate area. He places the puck with pinpoint accuracy, even under intense defensive pressure. If the goalie gives him an inch, he takes a mile. Wright also has a deceptive release, making him a threat to score anywhere on the ice and in any situation. When you combine his elite level shot with his ability to find seams and anticipate openings, you have an elite level goal scorer. It would not be shocking if Wright had a few 40 goal seasons as an NHL player.
We could have used any number of different clips here to showcase Wright’s shooting ability. This goal on the powerplay against Hamilton is just one of many. Not many goaltenders at any level are stopping that, as he picks the corner. This is not an anomaly
Is Wright exceptionally skilled, exceptionally smart, or both? That is the million-dollar question that many scouts are asking themselves currently. The answer about his intelligence level is easy. The answer about his individual puck skill and creativity is not. One thing is clear, Wright is obviously skilled and has the ability to keep the puck on a string as he maneuvers in and out of traffic. However, is that at an elite level or just above average? The fact that Wright is consistently one step ahead of opposing defenders means that he does not need to dangle around or through them to make plays. He relies on quick touches and his ability to find open space without the puck to create offensive chances for himself and linemates. As mentioned, his ability to manipulate pace and space is terrific. Many watch Wright and wonder what the hype is about considering he does not consistently beat defenders one on one, especially with pace (as already stated). However, his hands in tight are excellent and only furthers his effectiveness as a finisher. Looking back to those clips from 2019 and thinking back to his minor hockey days with Don Mills, Wright CAN beat defenders one on one. To simplify his game and his approach, he has become more calculated and less aggressive these days. Moving forward, Wright will need to find that extra gear when he needs it, to create more consistently with pace and show that he can make skilled plays with the puck at full speed.
No better place for skilled players to show off their skill than overtime. Wright leads the charge into the offensive zone and is cut off by former U18 teammate Ethan Del Mastro. However, Del Mastro fails to initiate contact and Wright takes advantage of it by turning him into a pylon on route to a great backhand chance in tight.
The reason why Shane Wright was granted exceptional status in the first place is that he is a generational level thinker. You really do not get a true understanding of Wright’s effectiveness until you see him play live and take note of how well he anticipates and moves without the puck. Turnovers are generally rare in his game and seeing him caught out of position is even more rare. As mentioned, so much of his game is predicated on timing and chemistry with his linemates, as he manipulates pace and scans the ice. Part of this is why many speculate that his game is actually better suited for the pro level, where he can play with other skilled players who see the ice as well as he does.
In the offensive zone, Wright often draws in multiple defenders, before executing a pass into open space, as his linemates slide into subsequent defensive voids. It is this patience and poise with the puck that truly makes him an effective playmaker. Without the puck, he understands when to support puck carriers and when to slide into the slot to be available for a pass, rarely standing still in the offensive zone. His ability to get open chances in the slot consistently is evidence to how he anticipates the play and is one step ahead of the competition. Wright is more than a competent three zone player too because of his defensive positioning and stick placement in his own zone and in the neutral zone. He backchecks with a purpose and as a result, seems to put himself in position for a takeaway that can be used to transition Kingston back on the offensive attack.
First, a clip that shows Wright’s intelligence defensively. Again, this is a player who backchecks with a purpose and a plan. Wright skates back to try to negate the two on one. He sees his defender slide to take away the pass and understands that Ty Nelson (the passing option) is no longer available. Rather than fly by (as many do in this situation), he puts on the brakes, taking away the shooting lane and blocking the shot.
Second, a clip that shows how well Wright sees the ice in the offensive zone. He carries the puck over the line, slows his pace, and opens himself up to see the zone, knowing that the two Oshawa defenders are trying to box him in. He takes advantage of this split second opportunity by putting a pass through a stick check right on to Matthew Soto’s stick as he is already locked and loaded for the shot attempt. The result is a goal.
How about a play that combines his defensive awareness and his vision with the puck. Wright senses his defender in trouble and supports by taking away the slot. Then he peels around the net with his head up, draws in two defenders and makes a fantastic exit pass to spring fellow 2022 draft eligible forward Paul Ludwinski for the breakaway goal.
The one thing holding Wright back from being a dominant two-way center is a lack of physicality. No one is expecting him to be Kris Draper, but even the best two-way centers at the NHL level (Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Alex Barkov, etc) are great at using their body in combination with their awareness to stifle the opposition. There are situations that call for Wright to be a little harder on puck carriers or forwards driving the net, and it is where he occasionally falters. Additionally, while he is strong on the puck and protects it well in the offensive zone, he could stand to engage more consistently to try to earn puck touches along the wall and win those one-on-one jousts.
You want someone like Wright to have the puck on his stick as much as possible, and given his anticipation and awareness, he should have the potential to be a larger factor on the forecheck than he is. Instead, he relies on his wingers to do the dirty work for him (part of why Zayde Wisdom was such a great complement to his skill set) too often. I do believe that as he matures and gains further strength, Wright will become a dominant two-way player and someone more difficult to match up with one on one. However, he will likely always be the type that relies on positioning rather than physicality to make plays in any zone. As such, he likely grades out to be a little below average physically.
This is a pretty passive attempt by Wright to make a defensive stop and the result is a goal in the back of Kingston’s net. While these plays are uncommon, they have occurred a little more frequently this year compared to previous seasons. Again, to elevate himself into that upper echelon of defensive forwards at the next level, he will need to learn to stand his ground physically to take away space.
Similar kind of a play from a recent game against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Wright has a chance to disrupt the shot attempt in the slot but makes a very passive attempt at both a stick check and a shot block. These kinds of plays were not a part of his game previously, but they do tend to be happening with greater regularity this season. Again, if Wright wants to be a high-end defensive center at the NHL level, his physical intensity level needs to improve to at least the point it has been previously.