Is Shane Wright Still the No. 1 pick? What’s at stake in the NHL Draft Lottery

Shane Wright entered the 2021-22 season as the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. He was considered a true elite prospect by many scouts, a potential star no. 1 center. After being granted exceptional status to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old, he promptly scored 39 goals in 58 OHL games. He scored 9 goals and 14 points in 5 games at the U-18 Worlds as an underage player. He was on the path to stardom and it seemed inevitable he would have a great draft season.

Then the season started and Wright got out of the gates slowly. He had 8 points in 8 games in the season’s opening month. He also didn’t seem to be particularly effective in the games. Various reasonable rationsales for his less-than-exceptional play began to come from around the NHL, with onlookers pointing to sample size or his missed season in 2020-21 as factors that could lead to a slow start.

It’s hard to speculate how much of a missed season impacted players’ development, but it’s not worth noting that it didn’t slow down Dallas pick Wyatt Johnston or Seattle pick Ryan Winterton from being among the top scorers in the OHL points / game. Wright did come on strong in the second half though and finished up in the top 10 in the OHL scoring.

Wright’s statistics coming up always looked amazing, but I admit there were only a couple of times when I saw him and was truly blown away: the opening game of the U17 challenge and his U18 worlds game vs. Sweden. He scored a hat trick in both. The obvious caveat here is that he was always so young that I just reasonably concluded that age was the reason why he was consistently having great games.

Those past viewings inform this season’s, though. I’ve talked to scouts about what they’ve seen and I’ve watched over a dozen Kingston games, both live and via video. The realization and common thought around the industry is that Wright simply lacks the dynamic athleticism and skill elements that you typically associate with a no. 1 pick. He’s an excellent player and NHL prospect, but he doesn’t have Nathan MacKinnon’s skating, Patrick Kane’s hands, or Steven Stamkos’ shot. I historically viewed Wright’s shot as elite, but it didn’t look that way this season, and in fact he had twice as many assists as goals. Wright is just a very well-rounded player who can admittedly be boring for a first overall pick. It’s why you hear scouts project him as Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly, neither of which, mind you, were first-round picks due to their lack of some of those dynamic elements. You can argue this is a risky projection for a teenager when there is not a very large talent to hit the high side. That said, similar descriptions could be used for the top two picks in the 2021 draft by Owen Power and Matthew Beniers. My current comparable for Wright would be Rangers center Mika Zibanejad.

Wright has been quite productive this season, but compared to where the top CHL prospects are usually, it is clear he is not at the level you are used to seeing the first overall pick in terms of dominance of his respective CHL league.

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Shane Wright’s grip on the no. 1 pick has yet to be challenged in part due to lack of an obvious riser this season. Logan Cooley is an excellent prospect but has 36 points in 24 USHL games. Joakim Kemell got off to a scorching start in Liiga but has since slowed down, and the same can be said of a lesser extent about Matthew Savoie in the WHL. Juraj Slafkovsky has had a tremendous Olympics and overall has been impressive in international play the last two seasons, but despite a good last few weeks his club’s overall Liiga production is nothing short of amazing.

(Robert Lefebvre / OHL Images)

“You’re keeping a guy at first overall based on what he’s done in the past seasons and not his draft season,” said one NHL executive. “I think that’s dangerous.” This is a reasonable thought, and it is one I have considered more than once. Most NHL scouts I’ve discussed with Wright admit they aren’t jumping out of their seats for him at the No. 1 pick, but they would also admit that their pick would simply be due to the lack of an obvious alternative. There were several scouts in the first half of the season arguing to me that Logan Cooley was a plausible alternative, but less so lately after Cooley didn’t light it up this season. Lately there have been scouts arguing Slafkovsky as the main challenger to Wright, suggesting with a minority they would surely take the Slovakian winger if they were the first pick.

Wright and Slafkovsky’s seasons are not over yet, though. Due to how delayed the CHL playoffs are, we still have to see how Wright fares in the postseason. Kingston exit could cause more uncertainty with the No. 1 pick? What if they unseat OHL favorite Hamilton? What if Slafkovsky had a big World Championship with NHL players in attendance? These are questions that are still to be answered on the eve of the lottery.

Projections when a player is an 18-year-old are no guarantee. Just because Wright doesn’t look like a lights-out no. 1 pick doesn’t mean he can’t. There are times when that has happened, when a no. 1 pick like Nico Hischier in 2017 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 didn’t get you that excited and ended up being predictive even though they are very good players. There were also years like 2014 in Aaron Ekblad and Patrick Kane in 2007 – players who weren’t consensus No. 1s and ends up being legit foundational pieces. There are also years like 2020, when Alexis Lafreniere looked like a future star and, at least to date, that has not happened yet.

There are still quite a few scouts who are big believers in Wright, and who think he’ll be a true star center in the NHL and would relish the opportunity to select him. I also personally believe he projects as a first line center, who can be a top 15-20 center in the league. As the season has progressed, though, there has been more caution in projecting scouts into Wright, and there are quite a few evaluators who don’t see the high side I do.

Wright is the crown jewel for the team that wins the lottery. At this current moment I have a hard time seeing a team like anyone else Slafkovsky because it is currently close at best between the two teams and will lean to the center if it is tight. Wright will become a very important player for Whichever NHL organization picks him. But he’s no sure thing to become a NHL star or a top scorer in the league, and as the lottery balls begin to swirl, the story of the top of the 2022 NHL Draft has yet to be fully written.

(Top photo: Claus Andersen / Getty Images)

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