By winning the draw for the next National League draw, which will take place at the Bell Center in early July, the Canadiens are now in a position to take first overall for the first time since they set his sights on Doug Wickenheiser in 1980. Selecting.
Even as the Canadian was criticized for decades for shunning Denis Savard in favor of Wickenheiser, we often forget that at the time of the draft, which took place on the floor of the Forum, Wickenheiser was the consensus #1 among National League scouts. Regina Pats’ star was taken where expected.
More than 40 years later, the Habs finally have a chance to add an impact player by speaking first, and we can understand those who want to prevent history from repeating itself.
Shane Wright is seen as the consensus first pick for the upcoming auction and as such his game is dissected in every way. Scouts will want to see if there are any warning signs from another Wickenheiser somewhere.
But every year it’s the same.
The gifted tipped to be universal top picks have been on everyone’s radar for far too long, we only see their flaws and almost forget why they’re number one.
So it was with Alexis Lafrenière, with Jack Hughes, and before with Taylor Hall, with John Tavares… We were looking for the bug.
Shane Wright has been through this all year. It’s true, he didn’t have a prodigious season with the Kingston Frontenacs, at least probably not to what we’d like to see from a first universal pick. For that reason – and because of a methodical, detail-oriented playing style that isn’t often spectacular – there’s been some shrugs when it comes to Wright for a while now.
The tree hides the forest.
It would be worth remembering that the 6’1, 185-pound center had been granted exceptional player status and an exemption from playing in the OHL at the age of 15. His rookie season at Kingston was breathtaking for such a young player, scoring 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games. We may indeed be dealing with a phenomenon.
The pandemic cost the OHL an entire season. All in all, Wright played just five games last year, five matches in the U18 World Cup in which he scored nine goals. For the rest, 19 months passed between the last game of his rookie season in Kingston and the next meeting.
So no, this campaign doesn’t get anyone too excited. But is it really surprising?
Scan the public lists of top prospects and Wright is the only OHL representative in the top 15, except for Pavel Mintyukov who pops up here and there.
Wright didn’t play at all last year, he’s had a really good season without being fantastic, and despite everything, no hopes of the rematch have been able to dislodge him. Almost everyone still expects Wright to be the first choice.
Even if the current season casts doubt on his true potential, the Canadian should also look at what his floor performance could be. Even if he didn’t become the big star you might have imagined before, Wright still has a great shot at becoming a front-line center in the National League and a player who is both prolific and responsible.
“If we are lucky enough to field a player who will have the same impact on the Canadiens that Patrice (Bergeron) had on the Boston Bruins, we will be thrilled,” said GM Kent Hughes, echoing the many comparisons made between Wright and Hughes’ former client.
“I don’t know him as a person. Looking forward to meeting him in Buffalo on combined† But I’ve watched him play for years, and he’s definitely a player who plays 200 feet, a player who pays attention not only to the attack, but also to the defensive play. And he looks like a team player. †
Wright could give the Canadian enough to build a centerline with Nick Suzuki that could someday recall the Bergeron-Krejci years in Boston.
Other prospects in this design with a more exciting style may indicate higher production, but do they have the same overall potential as him, and also the same floor?
These are questions that the organization will continue to evaluate over the next two months, as there is still plenty to think about. Wright offers him a priori an excellent basis for the future. But the Canadian’s chance in the rematch is too rare to be left in the dust like he’d done with Wickenheiser in the past.
“We are excited, we have first overall pick and I think we have the opportunity to pick a player who will play an important role in the future of the Canadian,” Hughes summed up on Tuesday night.
For each it’s a matter of finding out which Shane Wright it is: the one who, against all odds, outperforms the others, or the one who no longer matches the McDavidesque image we had of him two or three years ago? The first approach suggests that the Canadian has a chance to add a valuable contributor. The second leaves only room for disappointment.
The idea that he is currently not living up to the immense expectations that were once placed on him takes up so much space and yet there is a potential added value in Wright that what he thinks is a little bit about this trajectory of future player star once his development is over no longer affected by a full year of inactivity. Can we really rule out this possibility if we’ve never really dealt with this situation?
No one can guarantee that Wright will become this year’s best player. It is rarely possible to do this. Maybe Logan Cooley will turn out to be the better player. Maybe David Jiricek or Simon Nemec have a Norris trophy in them. Perhaps it is someone less expected, a Frank Nazar or a Conor Geekie for example, who in a few years will be considered the crown jewel of this design.
But right now we know that Wright has a chance to become the best player on his team. The same cannot be said for some prospects in this concept.
Let the oxen not be offended when we put the cart before them, and let’s see what it would mean for the Canadian to integrate Wright into his training.
Since he’s from the Canadian junior ranks rather than from Europe or US colleges, his chances of making the jump to the National League next year are even higher.
However, recent years have shown that top squads graduating by age 18 often have no immediate impact in the National League. Hughes, Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko are good examples.
If the Canadian learns from what happened elsewhere, he will prevent Wright from automatically getting a position; and if he ever stays in Montreal, immediately entrusting him with responsibilities that he could not fulfill. But Wright could still become the Canadiens’ third-line center next year. If things ever go exceptionally well, Wright can always turn the tables with Christian Dvorak.
You complete the center line with Jake Evans on the fourth line, and suddenly the CH have a solid base on offense, with responsible young centers, and all in place.
Arpon Basu and I wrote Monday morning that the conditions are in place for a new fallow season for the Habs, a new development season in which success is unlikely to come. It would really take Wright to explode in his rookie season to make a significant difference in that regard.
But the benefits are likely to come soon.
When he can hold his own in the NHL – that is, after he hits the proverbial wall, when we don’t have to constantly worry about hiding him from certain matchups, when he makes his better linemates – by adding a player of Wright’s caliber to the roster will affect many players.
First about Nick Suzuki, who will have reinforcements to support him in the more difficult missions. About Brendan Gallagher, who is eager to bounce back next season but will likely need a center that excels in transition to help him get back to being productive. On Dvorak of course, which is currently the second center by default, but which would make a very good third center for CH. And finally to Ryan Poehling, whose Montreal future is now at stake.
Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton have two months to get to know the young man and determine if this is indeed what they have in mind for him. If the trajectory they predict for him is the same as where they want to go as a team.
They may not choose Wright, but they will choose first. They are masters of their destiny. It is large. And by choosing to bet on Wright or let him falter, Hughes and Gorton get a chance to really make their mark on the organization they took over a few months ago.
(Photo: Robert Lefebvre/OHL Images)