This wasn’t where Shane Wright imagined his first NHL season would take him, but he’s determined to get the most out of it.
On Tuesday, the #4 pick overall in the 2022 NHL Draft was making his American Hockey League debut with the Coachella Valley Firebirds, scoring a goal and hitting a penalty in about 13 minutes of play, playing mostly with Kole Lind and Ville Petman.
Wright is in the AHL on a two-week conditioning assignment that he became eligible for after being a healthy scratch with the Seattle Kraken for five straight games. He has one assist in five NHL games this season.
“It’s always hard not being able to play and being scratched and not being able to play a cutting-edge role, but I think that’s just the reality of the situation,” Wright said.
“I’m an 18-year-old kid coming into the NHL trying to learn my way around, trying to learn those experiences in the NHL. It’s not going to happen right away. There’s going to be growing pains. It’s going to be a lot of development for me and I have to learn a lot of things from coaches.”
Firebirds coach Dan Bielsma is excited about the prospect of working with Wright.
“His training just gives him the opportunity to go out there and show what he can do and do it at his best,” said Bielsma.
“It’s just putting him on the ice and seeing how he can play. From training on Monday through to the game last night, he immediately showed what he can do with his speed and tenacity on the puck.”
Bielsma spoke with Kraken General Manager Ron Francis and head coach Dave Haxtol about the organization’s plan for him.
“We all know he’s a great player,” said Bielsma. “We all know he’s got skill and talent, W [it’s] Just giving him that opportunity to get on the ice and show it…it’s all about him playing in all of those positions, the offensive zone, the defensive zone, and giving him the opportunity to be in every one of those positions.”
Kraken Wright’s mission is simple.
“Just go out and play hockey,” he said, of their instructions to him.
“Just go out and build that confidence again. Don’t worry about results. Don’t worry about how many points you get or whatever that is, just go out, get touches, build your confidence up, just go out and play hockey and have fun.”
There are broader questions about Wright.
His conditioning period ends after 14 days or when he has played five matches. He is unsure of Kraken’s plans for him after his time in the AHL. Returning to the Ontario Hockey League is prospect The Kingston Frontenacs, for which Wright played two seasons holding OHL rights.
Burlington, Ont. Nationals are also eligible to participate in the upcoming World Championships, and would welcome the opportunity to represent Canada.
“Any time you get the chance to play for your country in a World Junior Championship, it’s something you grow up watching on TV, it’s always a really hard-to-miss decision,” he said.
“At the moment, I don’t know what that plan is. It’s obviously up to Seattle what they choose to do with me and where they want me to play.”
Bielsma acknowledged the pressure his freshman has been under since Wright was granted exceptional AFL status in 2019, which allowed him to join the league earlier.
“Shine has been looking at it for the long haul, not just with the enlistment last year and the entry this year,” said Bielsma.
“He’s felt it and he’s living with that and I think he’s just trying to guide him through that. He just needs to go out and play to his abilities and not worry about what everybody’s seeing and everybody’s seeing, just go out and play the way he can.”
While his stint in the AHL will be short, Wright is aware of how it can help his development, and isn’t too focused on what happens next.
“They just wanted me to come here to Coachella and spend those two weeks here, enjoy it, build my confidence, and worry about that decision later,” Wright said.