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Shane Wright excelling with Kraken ‘opportunity he was ready for’

NHL: Seattle Kraken at San Jose Sharks
Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Shane Wright has been on quite the roller coaster ride the past two years. But the Seattle Kraken center may have found the perfect tonic to even out the extreme peaks and valleys in his young NHL career.

A full season riding the buses and developing his game in the minor leagues.

Once expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Wright dropped to No. 4 overall. Certainly not a slap in the face, but a surprise nonetheless. Then he bounced around, playing for four teams in his age-19 season in 2022-23.

That’s a lot to process for a teenager, especially one who was granted exceptional player status to play junior hockey as a 15-year-old in 2019-20. He was the sixth player to be granted exceptional status at the time, joining NHL stars Connor McDavid, John Tavares and Aaron Ekblad. Connor Bedard was later granted such a status and is on his way to winning the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The other two players on that list serve as a cautionary tale for Wright. Neither Sean Day nor Joe Veleno has reached stardom, though Veleno is a regular these days with the Detroit Red Wings.

“I’m not sure what it’s like to be a player that’s super highly touted like that, but you can get a little bit too far ahead of yourself with what the expectations are and all of that,” Coachella Valley Firebirds assistant coach Stu Bickel told the Forever Blueshirts podcast.

“So, I think it was really important for him  to come down to the American Hockey League and just be able to play hockey and, as much as he could, maybe erase those expectations from his head and just focus on playing and getting better.”

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Shane Wright starring for Kraken after full season in AHL

Syndication: Desert Sun
Shane Wright playing for Coachella Valley in the AHL — Taya Gray/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK Credit: Taya Gray/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK

Wright did just that this season. He scored 20 goals and totaled 43 points in 56 games, maturing as an all-around player.

Now, the Kraken are reaping the benefits. Recalled from the American Hockey League last week, Wright has three goals and an assist in three games. The Burlington, Ontario native exploded for two goals as part of a three-point outing in a 3-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks last Thursday.

“He’s doing really, really well. It’s an opportunity he was ready for,” said Bickel, a former rugged NHL defenseman with the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild.

“His details, his wall play and his D-zone coverage, all those little details that maybe you don’t pick up in junior, he was able to improve a lot of those things when he was down here in Coachella Valley. It’s certainly exciting to see him go up  and have an impact at the end of the year here. … We’re excited and keeping tabs on him.”

Bickel and the rest of the Coachella Valley staff, which includes head coach Dan Bylsma, may be forced to watch Wright from afar from now on because he might not be returning to the AHL anytime soon.

Playing with poise and confidence, Wright is maturing nicely after a vagabond first professional season when he played eight games for the Kraken in 2022-23, then for Canada at the 2023 World Junior Championship before 20 games with Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League and eight with Coachella Valley. He added 24 more games in the Firebirds’ run to the Calder Cup Final, gaining valuable playoff experience, ultimately losing Game 7 in overtime to Hershey.

Bickel firmly believes that spending nearly all of this season in the AHL benefitted Wright immensely.

“He was able to come down and refine some of these details in his game and that makes you more versatile as a player,” Bickel explained. “And in order to stick on an NHL roster and to find a role it allows you to play up and down the lineup a little bit more. He was able to develop some of those things and give him some flexibility and give [Kraken coach Dave] Hakstol some flexibility as well in terms of his usage.”

There won’t be a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season for the Kraken. But there are six regular-season games left for Wright to leave a lasting impression before the team reconvenes for training camp in September.

And if he continues this hot run, the Kraken are going to feel really good about the expected No. 1 pick falling to them at fourth overall two years ago.

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