Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

It’s official. It’s NHL Draft week. The first round will take place this Thursday, July 7, with rounds 2-7 occurring on July 8. The New Jersey Devils hold the second overall pick, and for most of the last two months, Logan Cooley and Juraj Slafkovsky have seemed like the obvious choices with the selection. However, that may be changing. 

In Bob McKenzie’s final draft ranking, which polls NHL scouts, Slafkovsky came in as the No. 1 ranked prospect, with Shane Wright coming in second. Dating back to 2009, the player ranked first in McKenzie’s ranking has always gone first overall at the draft. I’d bet on this being the year that bucks the trend. But if Slafkovsky is the first pick, the Devils will have Wright fall into their laps, something they cannot pass up.  

What Makes Wright a Top Prospect

Wright has been considered this draft’s No. 1 prospect for quite some time. He had a historic season with Kingston Frontenacs as a 15-16-year-old in 2019-20, totaling 39 goals and 27 assists for 66 points in 58 games. But then COVID happened, and with the OHL canceling their 2020-21 season, Wright did not play junior hockey for an entire year. 

Things returned to as close to normal this season, with Wright playing a complete year with the Frontenacs. Much was expected of him, and while he did have a very good season, it seems he left some less than impressed. By all accounts, 32 goals, 62 assists, and 94 points is nothing to be ashamed of. But it is not what’d you expect of some first-overall picks, especially ones who received exceptional status to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old. 

Shane Wright Kingston Frontenacs
Kingston Frontenacs center Shane Wright (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

With that said, there’s still a lot to like about Wright. His two-way game is what gets people talking, but for me, it’s his offensive game that stands out. What makes Wright the potential No. 1 pick in this class is his smarts; he knows his surroundings well and can make something out of nothing. As Will Scouch describes in his video, which you can watch at the end of this post, Wright shows one of the smartest minds and tactical approaches to the game in this year’s draft. 

But Wright’s smarts aren’t the only thing he has going. He has a plus shot and has a knack for going to high-danger areas. There are different ways for him to create offense, and that is the best thing he has to offer to the team drafting him. As for his defensive game, it’s…fine? Patrice Bergeron is an overly optimistic comparison for him (or anyone). He’ll probably be a fine defensive player in the NHL, but at this point, it’s not what makes him a top prospect. His offensive potential is where his value lies. 

Why Devils Should Consider Wright

When looking at the Devils’ roster, they don’t need a center. Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are signed to long-term deals, while Dawson Mercer could be their third-line center of the future. But as would be the case with Cooley, taking Wright would be the best player available approach. 

Related: Devils’ 2022 NHL Draft Targets: Logan Cooley

With Wright, the Devils would be running a trio of Hughes, Hischier and Wright down the middle for years to come. That would push Mercer to the wing, where he looked comfortable this past season playing alongside Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich. It’d give them a similar model to what the Pittsburgh Penguins had when they drafted Jordan Staal to complement Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. 

That model of being strong down the middle has proven successful too. You have to look no further than this season’s two finalists, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning have been the Eastern Conference’s best team for the last three seasons with Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli as their top three centers. The Avalanche won this season’s Stanley Cup with Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri and J.T. Compher as their top three centers. 

Shane Wright Kingston Frontenacs
Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs (Photo by Robert Lefebvre/OHL Images)

Wright has more offensive upside than Cirelli and certainly Compher, but the point is being strong down the middle is a good setup for long-term success. There’d also be no pressure on Wright with the Devils, at least for the first few seasons of his career, since Hughes and Hischier are the team’s top dogs for the foreseeable future. That’d give him time to develop, and he should be walking into a good situation with players that will let him put his offensive smarts to work right away. 

What Others Are Saying About Wright

“Wright plays a refined, complete game built upon outstanding hockey sense. He sees things unfolding ahead of time and consistently makes strong reads to be in advantageous positions, both offensively and defensively. Wright is more powerful than he is explosive, but he has a clean stride and takes intelligent routes with possession as well as in support of the play.” – Nick Richard, Dobber Prospects.

“With high-end hockey sense highlighted by his tremendous offensive intelligence, Shane Wright can make a lot of plays. While he lacks a dynamic puck skills in terms of handling, he has one of the better shots in this draft class with a quick, deceptive release. Though he has often been compared to Patrice Bergeron, I think Wright is a good two-way player but not to the degree where that is an especially apt comparison. He does a lot of the things you hope a center does in terms of puck possession, making plays and contributing in his own end. The offensive elements of his game are the standout traits for me.” – Chris Peters, Daily Faceoff.

“Wright has the potential to be very dangerous and a versatile two-way threat in the NHL. He’s a player that can play in any situation, handling top-line minutes while being a staple on the first power play and penalty kill units. His IQ, work ethic, offensive potential and defensive awareness alone make him a top reliable centreman…” – Peter Baracchini, The Hockey Writers.

Devils Should Not Pass on Wright at 2nd Overall

If the Canadiens shock the world and take Slafkovsky, the Devils will have a decision on their hands. Do they take Wright? Do they consider Cooley? What about trading down? They will have teams calling and looking to move up to draft Wright second overall. But the decision shouldn’t be that difficult: take Wright. 

Wright may not have had the season you’d expect from a first overall pick, but nor did Slafkovsky, who now sits first overall in some rankings. He’d be the best player available at second overall if Slafkovsky goes to the Canadiens, and that has to be the route they take if he falls to them. The Devils’ center depth will be close to unrivaled with Hischier, Hughes and Wright once Wright comes into his own as he gets into his 20s. That should line them up very well for long-term success, which could make them a consistent contender in the Metropolitan Division for years to come. 

Shane Wright Video

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