Habsent Minded is a podcast series on all things Montreal Canadiens. In the latest episode, Patrik Bexell was joined by Hadi Kalakeche, Matt Drake, Jared Book, and Anton Rasegård for a round-table discussion on the first overall pick for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. In this first part of four, the panel discusses the pros and cons of Shane Wright and the context of his supposedly low offensive production.
Patrik Bexell, European Correspondent: When we talk about the first overall pick, most of the discussion centres around the pros and cons of Shane Wright. He’s been the consensus number one for about two or three years now, which reminds me of Rasmus Dahlin. But there’s a perception that Wright’s most recent season hasn’t been up to par, so what is everyone’s opinion on Shane Wright?
Hadi Kalakeche, Catching the Torch series, Assoc. Editor & QMJHL Regional Scout - DobberProspects: Shane Wright is a “decider.” He dictates what happens on the ice — that is, he reads plays extremely well and he takes the puck like no one else in his draft class. I don’t think he has the highest point production potential in this class, but I do think that he will be the most consistently impactful player. His style of play has drawn comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, and I understand why. There are, of course, some slight differences between the two, but at the end of the day, Shane Wright is an analytical player who takes his time, who can reset the play, who knows when and how to stop and re-evaluate his options, and who jumps into the right areas at the right time. To me, there’s not really a doubt in terms of who goes first overall: Shane Wright is the best bet to be able to impact an NHL game on a regular basis.
Matt Drake, Staff Writer/Editor: As soon as the Montreal Canadiens made it clear that they wouldn’t be playoff contenders, I started watching as many of Wright’s games as possible. Yes, Wright’s production was kind of flat this year, but there’s a few things that need to be mentioned to put that into context. Early in the season, Wright was on a line with two rookies, Matthew Soto and Paul Ludwinsky. [Kingston Frontenacs] coach Luca Caputi said that he did this specifically because he wanted to shelter these guys coming into their first OHL seasons. It wasn’t until later on in the year, after everyone had gotten up to speed after having a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that Wright was put with Martin Chromiak, and then his numbers took off.
Did Wright have the offensive season that people love to see from a potential first overall pick? No, but 94 points was good enough to put him in the top 10 in the OHL, and he did that while spending a big portion of the year carrying two rookies. Like Hadi said, he’s a very capable decision maker with and without the puck, and if your aim is to give yourself the best possible chance of winning a Stanley Cup, I think Wright is the best player for that.
Jared Book, Deputy Managing Editor: I think that some of the more recent questions about Wright stem from Juraj Slafkovský being included in some very high profile events. Certainly, we can’t discount Slafkovský’s performances at the Olympics and the World Championships — against men, at that. The fact that Wright and Slafkovský are two very different players also makes comparing them more difficult and sparks more back-and-forth debate. But it’s funny that the main knock against Wright is his offensive potential, because at the 2021 U-18 World Championships, he had 14 points in five games. He was tied with Connor Bedard despite playing two fewer games, and he was ahead of Mason McTavish, who played at the Olympics like Slafkovský and is seen as one of the top prospects in a purely offensive context. He was ahead of older players (Bedard aside) in that tournament and I just find it funny that people suddenly think his offensive upside is limited.
He’s been the best player in his age group essentially ever since we started paying attention to this age group, and I think there’s a double-edged sword to that. Guys like John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, they’ve been in the spotlight for so long, that when someone like Slafkovský comes along and puts up a tremendous season, we think that the new guy is better because we haven’t been picking apart his game for four years. Again, that’s not to take anything away from Slafkovský or the people who think that the Habs should take him first overall, but I think we have to remember why the 2022 NHL Draft Class was viewed as the “Shane Wright class” for many years. In the end, maybe we can take comfort in the fact that anyone in the top five is a good prospect, and the Montreal Canadiens will make the choice that they feel is the best one.
Anton Rasegård, Staff Writer and Podcaster: You mentioned the idea of scrutiny and trajectory, and I think that we’re all kind of guilty of looking at players like they’re in video games. That we want them to move from a 72 to a 76 to an 80 in this linear, predictable fashion, and then you kind of get this mental idea that their trajectory is locked in. For Wright, when he was 15 or 16, people saw a potential superstar like Connor McDavid. But then you have the COVID-19 situation, and his deployment with Kingston, as Matt mentioned, where he was playing with rookies, and his trajectory no longer looks like that idealized superstar trajectory, and then people start thinking of Nolan Patrick.
When people start nitpicking, it can quickly turn into an avalanche of criticism, but for Wright, he’s been still pretty good. He didn’t put up 140 points in the OHL or anything, but I remember the interview that Sportsnet did, I think on the night when Montreal got the first overall pick, where they mentioned that Wright’s coaches and teammates were constantly talking about how Wright really wanted to improve other parts of his game because he knew he already had the offence he needed for the OHL level. When you’re focusing on being a 200-foot player, you’re naturally not going to end up on the scoresheet as much.
Matt: The leading goal-getter this year in the OHL was Luke Evangelista, and he took something like 200 more shots on goal than Wright. Is that because Evangelista was on the ice that much more? Probably not. Instead, Evangelista is putting more pucks on net than Wright. Why? Because that’s what the London Knights wanted from him, and what his coach told him to do. Wright, on the other hand, and I’m again sourcing his coach on this, never complained about playing with those rookies. He took it as an opportunity to develop that 200-foot game that Anton talked about. In junior hockey, especially in the CHL, everyone’s preoccupied with goal scoring, with filling the net. Wright, on the other hand, was focused on how he can avoid other teams from filling his net. That’s a testament to how Wright is focused on getting better in areas where he thinks he isn’t good enough. That’s the guy who’s going to show up and put in work with your skills coach to fix things that you see in his game that you don’t like.
Hadi: That’s the definition of going the extra mile. The other thing I like to focus on, as a scout, is whether a player will fall apart if you take one thing away from them. For example, if you take away Luke Evangelista’s one timer, what else can he offer? But Wright is so multi-dimensional and can be impactful in so many different ways. There’s leadership, there’s dedication, there’s maturity, there’s his playmaking, his vision, and even things like the way he gets off the boards, the way he times his rushes, the way he switches between lanes on the rush. Every other prospect in this draft, I think thye have two or three things that they’re really good at, and then they’re average in the other areas, but Wright’s game is so complete. Additionally, since he has the dedication and drive to go the extra mile, I think you can only go up, build up from here. That’s why for me, there’s no doubt about him.
Keep your eyes peeled for part two, coming soon, where the panel discusses whether Wright is the most NHL-ready prospect available, and whether his immediate future is best spent in the NHL or not.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and length. The full, unedited conversation that serves as the source for all four parts is available below.