HERSHEY, PA — Shane Wright’s path to stardom in the NHL is not a straight line, but from all evidence this past year, he is well on his way to getting there.
After being drafted fourth overall by the Kraken in the 2022 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old Canadian center has had a whirlwind rookie pro season, playing for four different teams as Seattle has tried to maximize his experience and make the most of rules in his entry-level contract.
Wright figures to make a rapidly-developing Kraken team next season, but his final stop of the 2022-23 campaign has him with Seattle’s AHL affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, as they face off with the Hershey Bears in the 2023 Calder Cup Finals.
Wright has tallied three points — all assists — in four championship series games thus far, including two breathtaking plays in Games Three and Four in Hershey. Wright has done this from the team’s fourth line as he’s centering AHL veterans Carsen Twarynski and Austin Poganski.
Wright’s first sensational primary assist came 6:33 into the third period of Game Three.
buuuuut here’s a look at T’s goal 🔥 pic.twitter.com/MlQlP7bfZw
— x – Coachella Valley Firebirds (@Firebirds) June 14, 2023
After a turnover by Bears’ defenseman Gabriel Carlsson up the sideboards, Wright picked up the puck, skated it into the offensive zone, and found Twarynski with a hard cross-ice pass. Twarynski beat Bears goaltender Hunter Shepard, who was trying to recover laterally, with a quick shot to the short side of the net.
The goal got the Firebirds back into the game and narrowed Hershey’s lead to 3-2. Coachella Valley would go on to lose 5-4 in overtime.
On Thursday in Game Four, Wright earned the primary assist on an Austin Poganski goal that had similar characteristics.
let’s go pogo!!! 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/74rGxuVZco
— x – Coachella Valley Firebirds (@Firebirds) June 15, 2023
Wright carried the puck down the left wing and stopped on a dime, evading a poke check by Bears defenseman Logan Day. He then shot another bullet pass to Poganski, who quickly fired and beat Shepard far side.
The goal tied the game 1-1 in the first period, but the Firebirds would go on to lose 3-2.
The two plays showed off what makes Wright so special and such a tricky player to defend.
“He’s got great speed and skill and vision with the puck and it creates opportunities for others around him,” Firebirds head coach Dan Blysma (PIT, 2009 Stanley Cup) said after Game Four. “He’s had two great plays. Game Three, and the one again [in Game Four] was I think an even better play. But how the game went, power plays, penalty kills, it kept us from getting him on the ice more. That’s something I have to remedy as a coach.”
“He’s young and he’s skilled right? He sees the ice well,” Logan Day said. “He made a hell of a play [tonight in Game Four]. But we’ve just got to stay over top of him. We have a lot of older guys on the team too, who have been here, been in this position. So if we just stay on top of him, stay physical with him, hopefully we’ll be able to slow him down.”
Wright is one of Coachella Valley’s most raw but talented players. His utilization in the bottom six is part of what makes the Firebirds such a dangerous and quick-strike team. Coachella Valley also features forward Tye Kartye, who had five points in 10 postseason games for Seattle, and 30-goal AHL scorer Kole Lind, a 2017 second-round pick by the Vancouver Canucks. On defense, Ryker Evans, a Kraken 2021 second-round pick, has 22 points in 23 postseason games.
“I haven’t seen [Shane Wright] a whole lot, except for our series,” Hershey Bears head coach Todd Nelson said. “But he’s a smart hockey player. He has skill, [makes] plays. They have a lot of players like that. They’re just a dangerous hockey team. It’s a credit to them and their coaching staff. They keep us on our toes. Every moment matters against this team. We can’t take a shift off or any part of that shift off because they’ll make you pay.”
While admitting that he tries not to be concerned about one particular player, Hunter Shepard admitted that Wright’s been noticeable on the ice.
“He’s obviously a really good player,” the Bears goaltender said. “He was picked up high in the draft for a reason. And so, they have a lot of guys [who are] offensively skilled over there, so it’s tough. I mean, you can cover it good and I can play it good, and they have guys over there that sometimes they’re just going to make a really good play or they’re going to make a really good shot. It’s just kind of their team.”
If the Firebirds are able to win the Calder Cup, the championship would mark Wright’s second of the season. He also captained Team Canada to a gold medal in the 2023 World Junior Championship after posting seven points (4g, 3a) in seven tournament games.
CAPTAIN CANADA 🚨
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 6, 2023
Wright’s season started in Seattle after making the Kraken out of Training Camp. But Wright received minuscule playing time from Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol, averaging only 8:29 of ice time. In his seventh game played in the NHL, Wright suffered a lower-body injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 5.
Despite not being eligible to play in the AHL during the regular season due to his age, the Kraken found a way around that by sending Wright on a five-game rehabilitation stint with Coachella Valley from November 22 through December 3. Wright scored in his first three games that he was there, including a two-goal outing against the Calgary Wranglers on November 24.
When his stint ended, Wright came back to Seattle for his eighth game of the NHL season and scored his first career big-league goal against the Montreal Canadiens.
He was soon dispatched again from the team. If Wright played in 10 NHL games or was on the Kraken roster for 40 games, the first year of his entry-level contract would go into effect, so the Kraken loaned him to Team Canada for the World Junior Championship.
After Wright won gold, Seattle re-assigned their top prospect to Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs on January 6, 2023. Three days later, Wright was traded by Kingston to the Windsor Spitfires in a blockbuster deal.
Wright had 37 points (15g, 22a) in 20 regular season games for the Spitfires, but the top-ranked team was upset in the first round of the OHL playoffs by the eighth-seeded Kitchener Rangers. Wright was then assigned back to the Coachella Valley Firebirds where he’s still playing.
Wright’s adventurous year comes after being under an intense spotlight where his great play in junior was nitpicked by scouts and draft analysts. Wright spent most of 2021-22 season as the presumptive first overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, but fell three spots on Draft Day when the Montreal Canadiens opted to take Juraj Slafkovský over him.
In an article on The Athletic, Corey Pronman explained the slide by saying scouts thought Wright was “very good, but nothing special” and there’s “nothing elite about his game.”
But Wright is standing out in the 2023 Calder Cup Finals and he has shown a remarkable amount of mental toughness, professionalism, and durability throughout the year jumping around from team to team.
Wright’s had one of the longest seasons of any hockey player in the world, playing in games from mid-October through mid-June. It’s a special year for a special player, who will soon likely do big things in the NHL.
Note: Firebirds’ PR, through a Hershey Bears’ spokesman, turned down a request to speak to Wright for this piece.
Headline photo: Mike Zitek/Coachella Valley Firebirds
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