By Geoff Baker / The Seattle Times
MONTREAL, Quebec — Arguably the most discussed, dissected, lauded and criticized junior hockey player of the past two years is headed to the Emerald City to provide the Seattle Kraken some dramatically boosted prospect depth up the middle.
And the Kraken hope that once Shane Wright adjusts to professional hockey, he and future teammate Matty Beniers can dominate opponents at the NHL level the way they did in the junior and college ranks. Stunned gasps erupted around the Bell Centre on Thursday night as the opening picks of the NHL entry draft went nothing like expected and saw tenuously-projected No. 1 choice Wright tumble instead into the Kraken’s hands at No. 4.
“I was drafted by an NHL franchise,” Wright, a star center with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, said when asked how he was processing the night’s developments. “I was drafted by a team with a lot of potential. It’s a great city with a great fan base. Obviously, you want to go first. It’s definitely something every guy wants to be able to do going into the draft.
“But I couldn’t be happier with being in Seattle. I couldn’t be happier with being a Kraken. I’m really excited about the future I have in Seattle.”
Wright admitted he’ll use this night as motivation as well.
“I’m definitely going to have a chip on my shoulder from this, that’s for sure,” he said.
The Montreal Canadiens signaled it was going to be a very different night than many expected, causing their thousands of hometown fans in attendance to erupt in cheers, boos and flat-out astonishment when they bypassed Wright and selected Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovski with their top pick. Slafkovski’s countryman, defenseman Simon Nemec — who many figured the Kraken would select at No. 4 — then went to the New Jersey Devils two spots higher than most forecasts, given that team is already stacked with young talent at the center position.
It was the first time two Slovakian players had even been picked in the top 10 the same year, let alone at 1-2.
The Arizona Coyotes then bypassed Wright at No. 3 as well, opting instead for a hometown choice in Scottsdale native Logan Cooley from the U.S. National Team Development Program. All of a sudden, instead of picking from some projected next-tier defensemen or forwards, the Kraken had a shot at Wright, a player touted as perhaps the most NHL-ready player in the draft.
Wright has been making headlines the past three years since being granted exceptional player status to be drafted into the OHL at age 15 instead of 16. Then, in his debut age 16 season, he immediately established himself as a potential No. 1 NHL pick by scoring 39 goals and adding 27 assists in a COVID-19-shortened 58 game schedule.
His star then faded somewhat as the OHL shut down the following season. Upon his return this past campaign, Wright still put up an impressive 32 goals and 62 assists over 63 games — far exceeding his point-per-game output of two years prior.
Still, the expectations created by his 39-goal rookie season caused some disappointment and talk that the Canadiens might go with somebody else at No. 1.
Nonetheless, Wright had awoken in Montreal on Thursday thinking he’d be starting his career in this city as well. Instead, with the Canadiens taking Slafkovski, Wright is headed to the West Coast to join top prospect Beniers, taken at No. 2 overall last season and now planning to break training camp with the Kraken this October.
Whether Wright gets a shot at doing that right away as well remains to be seen. He’d be a top choice for Canada at the upcoming IIHF 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships next month. He could rejoin his OHL team for another season or start with the Kraken and then be returned early to the junior ranks if he doesn’t appear in more than nine NHL games.