Shane Wright on exceptional status: "it helped me a lot"

Seattle Kraken v San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 01: Shane Wright #51 is congratulated by Jordan Eberle #7 of the Seattle Kraken after he scored against the San Jose Sharks in the first period at SAP Center on April 01, 2024 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

Shane Wright can remember about the experience of playing in a league that was meant for bigger, older, and heavier players. 

That didn’t deter him from competing in the Canadian Hockey League at age 15, the final step before the Seattle Kraken took the promising center at fourth overall in Montreal at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, following a much-ballyhooed build-up that had him in the “first overall” conversation. 

“Playing at the next level and taking that step and learning how to play against those older, bigger players just sets you up better, for the next level moving on and moving forward,” said Wright. 

This is a similar situation evolving about 30 miles north of Seattle in Everett, Wash. – the home of the Western Hockey League’s Silvertips – and for 15-year-old defenseman Landon DuPont. The Silvertips will pick first overall in the upcoming WHL Draft on May 9. Very likely, that pick will go DuPont, who was just granted exceptional status by the CHL on Monday. 

The meaning is massive at multiple angles. 

Full time roster slots for 15-year-olds, in a league meant for typical 16- to 20-year-olds, aren’t given out daily. Hockey Alberta, the governing provincial body of the sport where DuPont comes from, had to successfully petition Hockey Canada on DuPont’s behalf for admittance into the WHL (who operates under the CHL umbrella) a year early, involving a character and hockey evaluation. 

“Landon not only boasts impressive hockey ability that will allow him to succeed in the WHL at a young age, but he also possesses the incredible maturity required to be an exemplary young person off the ice,” Hockey Canada senior vice president of high performance and hockey operations Scott Salmond said in a statement. 

DuPont, whose father Micki reached the NHL level as a defenseman with Calgary, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, will be the first defenseman granted with exceptional status in WHL history. The exemption has only been granted eight previous times in CHL history, including Wright (2019), Connor Bedard (2020), Connor McDavid (2012), Aaron Ekblad (2011), and John Tavares (2005). 

An exceptional status exemption doesn’t guarantee a future NHL superstar, though “generational talent” has often been associated with prospects of this nature. It’s likely the Silvertips might be landing the next one, a player with potential to become a franchise great, and an icon of the major junior scene in the Pacific Northwest, akin to Patrick Marleau, Mat Barzal (Seattle Thunderbirds), Carey Price (Tri-City Americans), and Cam Neely (Portland Winterhawks). The Silvertips nearly got one of them, eight years ago, in drafted prospect and future Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews. He even attended Everett’s training camp, drafted but unsigned. But the competition for his final stop before the NHL was ferocious, and the 17-year-old Matthews eventually committed to the top pro league in Switzerland and Zurich SC, recruited and coached by Marc Crawford.  

Silvertips chief operating officer Zoran Rajcic told Nick Patterson of the Everett Herald before Monday’s news they intend to pick DuPont, a “generational player.” The question has lingered if he commits to playing in the WHL, or even considers the NCAA route. Then there’s the question if he’ll come to Everett. 

Rajcic provided a firm answer to the former in a text message with 93.3 KJR-FM. 

“He is committed to the WHL, and we still need to speak further with the family to make sure Everett is a fit for him,” said Rajcic. 

“We have met with the family and are going through the process,” Silvertips assistant general manager Mike Fraser told 93.3 KJR-FM by text message. 

“With this being the first time we’ve ever had the first overall pick, we are making sure we are doing our due diligence in this entire process, with the help of the league, as the prospects draft approaches. We are excited that he has been granted exceptional status, and we’ll now move forward with the next steps. We would love to see him in a Silvertips jersey next season.” 

DuPont’s playing style, who “reminds me of Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes” according to Fraser, could take a ride with intense hype and attention levels nationally and in the Puget Sound region. Then there’s the move - Wright said, “he’ll be in a new country,” an adjustment dynamic that Dupont will have to go through, moving his life from Calgary to Everett. But ultimately, the lure of sharpening his skill set against more mature competition was too good to pass up and benefited Wright’s game to be pro ready at an accelerated pace. 

“Obviously it helped me a lot,” said Wright. “You’re 15, you're at a young age, but Landon's an unbelievable player and he's well deserving. I've looked at some of his stats and numbers and stuff. He's lighting it up there, but he obviously looks like a mature kid and being able to step in a year early just shows that level of maturity that he has, and physically he's mature as well - and ready for that next step.” 

Wright, in his second call-up to the NHL this season after turning 20 on January 5, has three goals and four points in six games. 

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