It remains a general consensus that the first overall pick of the 2022 NHL entry draft will be Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs. A somewhat underwhelming year in terms of production has cooled the hype around him, but it will be a shocker if the team first up to the podium doesn’t call his name on July 7.
A standout with the Don Mills Flyers program in minor hockey, Wright’s name has been on NHL radars well before he was granted exceptional player status to enter the Ontario Hockey League as a 16-year-old in 2019-20. With 66 points (39G, 27A) in 58 games at that age, he solidified the already widespread opinion that he’d be a top pick in the NHL draft when the time came.
The COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately ended his rookie season early, and then it completely cancelled his sophomore campaign in 2020-21. Returning to action this year with the Frontenacs, he put up 94 points (32G, 62A) through 63 contests, and as of this writing has 10 points (2G, 8A) through eight games in the playoffs.
At eighth in OHL scoring, it was an impressive season for him, but the hype that has followed him since he was in the ninth grade created expectations that many feel he hasn’t satisfied. It begs the question: Is he worth the top pick expected to be used to get him?
Birthplace: Burlington, Ontario
Date of birth: January 5, 2004
Weight: 187 lbs.
Team: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
With an elite two-way game at the Junior level, it comes as no surprise that one of Wright’s biggest strengths is his hockey IQ. He processes the game at an extremely high level, and scouts rave about his off-puck positioning. When you think about players who are often in the right place at the right time, this is one of them.
It is that positioning and processing that facilitates the rest of his game. He’s anticipating plays and thinking two steps ahead, so when he gets the puck, he already knows where he wants to go with it. With nearly an assist per game on the season, he was a major catalyst for the Frontenacs’ offense, even if his goal-scoring wasn’t quite where people would have liked it to be. It is a game of chess for him, and he can see the path to checkmate earlier than most.
He does have a dangerous shot, but as David St-Louis mentions in the video above, the way he sets up to shoot is what really makes him a threat. He gets lost in coverage often, and reappears attacking downhill in space. He won’t wow you with his shot like an Auston Matthews, but he knows how to use what he can do to his advantage.
Though his top speed leaves a bit to be desired, he is very strong on his skates, which serves him very well on defence and in puck-protection. He isn’t a gargantuan forward, but at 6’1” there is plenty of room for him to grow into his frame, and he could become a very difficult player to deal with when he does.
In short, though he isn’t a generational talent, and he doesn’t have elite individual attributes, he is above average in most categories. What puts him as a first overall pick is the combination of his tools with his elite positioning and hockey IQ, giving him a great probability of success in the NHL.
It’s hard to point to anything Wright does as a weakness, since he is about as complete a player as you’ll get in the draft. His shot is unconventional, but it works well for him, and he can beat goaltenders from all over the ice at the Junior level. The concern is whether his offensive skill set will translate to the NHL in a manner commensurate with the expectations placed on a first overall pick.
A 94-point season for most players would be considered exceptional. It is only underwhelming for him due to where he’ll be drafted, and how long that position has been known. He did quite well on the playmaking front, so the concerns seem primarily linked to his goal-scoring. If there is a knock on his play, it is that he looked too passive at times in the offensive zone, and potentially left some goals on the table as a result.
That being said, he models himself after Patrice Bergeron, wants to be a complete two-way player, and this passivity in the offensive zone could be a casualty of his focus on his 200-foot game. If that is the case, it is a sacrifice that most coaches would be willing to make when the result still netted him well over a point per game.
Elite Prospects: #1
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #1
Craig Button (TSN): #1
NHL Central Scouting: #1 (NA Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): #1
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #1
The Bergeron comparison isn’t just one that Wright fancies for himself, it is a common comparison from scouts and fans alike. If his future is truly that of a four-time Selke Trophy-winner and Stanley Cup champion, any team finding themselves at the top of the order will be thrilled to select him. Bergeron was of course a second-round selection in 2003, but the benefit of hindsight would certainly make him a top-five pick if redrafting that year.
Another comparable that often pops up is John Tavares, so while there may not be pre-draft hype akin to that with names like Matthews and McDavid, there is widespread belief that Wright has a very high ceiling.
Most fans want a generational talent with a first overall pick, and while he is the most complete player available in this draft, such a guaranteed superstar can’t be found in 2022. Whether he’s worth the first overall pick, only time will tell, but reaching for a player that may have a higher ceiling could cause you to miss out on what seems to be at least a very safe pick in Wright.
Whichever team wins the lottery needs to ask themselves one question: Would a very capable two-way centre — who has a floor that should see him at least on your second line — increase your chances of a Stanley Cup in the next 10 years? If so, make the pick that everyone expects you to make.