More playing time is coming for Shane Wright.
It’s due to happen for the rest of the season though at the major junior level.
The 19-year old center, taken fourth overall by the Seattle Kraken in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, was formally re-assigned by the Kraken to the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League on Friday morning, just hours removed from a seminal moment of his young and promising career with a gold medal captured for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
“We’ve been sort of wrestling with it for a while and wanted him to go (to the World Juniors) and play," Kraken general manager Ron Francis told 93.3 KJR-FM. "I thought we’d make the final decision when it was all said and done. We’re looking where our team is, we’re looking if we called him back to Seattle, does he get the amount of games he needs? Does he get the ice time he needs?"
"We just felt in the best interests for him was to go back to junior - play a lot of minutes, play in all situations and that would be the best for his development.
The move reverses course from a direction identified in the pre-season, with Wright set to “likely” stay in the NHL all year. Not surprising, given his much celebrated (and at times, psychoanalyzed) status as a potential future star in the NHL.
However, as time marched on, Wright found difficulty landing a spot in a Kraken lineup that has sped light years ahead of schedule into legitimate playoff contention, and one that has been devoid of injuries for much of the season. He never soared above nine minutes of ice time until his sixth game of the season and was a healthy scratch for 11 of the first 18 games.
Wright was then sent on a two-week conditioning stint to the American Hockey League in November, a loophole to allow him to play in the minor leagues where otherwise he would be ineligible until age 20, and immediately torched the competition with four goals in five games with the Kraken top development affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds.
He was immediately returned to the Kraken for a Dec. 6 showdown with the Montreal Canadiens, the first team that passed on the 6-foot, 192 pound forward who was perhaps destined and debated to go there at first overall for much of last season, leading up to draft day.
The Canadiens took Juraj Slafkovsky, Wright landed into Kraken hands at fourth overall, much was ballyhooed about Wright’s eye contact on the draft stage after shaking hands with Gary Bettman, and everyone parted ways. So of course, in storybook fashion, Wright scored his first career NHL goal that night against Montreal, though one of few highlights in a 4-2 Kraken loss at Climate Pledge Arena.
The morning after, Wright was sent to Team Canada with more doors opening for ample playing time at the World Juniors, which would inundate his schedule for a month. Named captain of the Canadian squad, Wright helped capture a gold medal on Thursday night and scored a highlight-reel, backhanded goal in the second period as part of a 3-2 overtime win over Czechia. He finished the tourney with seven points in seven games, and four goals.
"We’re still really pleased with everything he’s done," said Francis. "He got NHL games, he got American Hockey League games, he got a gold medal at the World Junior tournament. That’s a heck of a path."
In all, since he embarked on his AHL conditioning stint for more playing time, Wright has bagged nine goals and 12 points in 13 games across the NHL, AHL, and international levels. The return to the major junior level for presumably, the remainder of the season, opens the door for more production where he has already excelled with flying colors – 160 points in 121 career games along with the CHL Rookie of the Year award while playing in the league at age 15 tells the story.
The Kraken also have bought more time with his development before slating him as a permanent fixture into the lineup. Wright signed his three-year, entry level contract with the Kraken last summer, which would kick in after nine games in the NHL.
Wright made it to eight games, scoring a goal along with an assist. That contract timeline now slides over to start next season.
Where Wright will actually play in the meantime is a matter of speculation. Francis had a strong indication though of what could happen.
"Now he’s going to go back to Kingston, they’ll trade him probably in the next day or two to another team, and that team will have a chance to win the Ontario Hockey League championship and compete for the Memorial Cup," said Francis.
"We think that’s the best path for him to take at this point.”
Though his rights are retained by Kingston, where he served as captain in a 94-point season last year, the Frontenacs are scuffling at 17-15-1-1 in the OHL’s East Division and 5-6 since the end of November, 18 points behind the division leader Ottawa 67’s. The league’s trade deadline is four days away, giving the Frontenacs time, if they wish, to package Wright to a front-running championship contender in exchange for a haul of draft picks or prospects that would bolster their future roster.
Wright then receives the upcoming spring months to be a centerpiece of a contender, potentially playing deep into the year again, versus a continued battle for playing time that has been scant this season at the NHL level.
Likely, nine teams in the league are in the mix to land Wright by trade.