Shane Wright had been the presumptive No. 1 overall pick for years –years! Dating back to at least 2019, when he became the sixth player to be granted a bye to play in the OHL at the age of 15, following the skate ruts of guys named Tavares, Ekblad and McDavid. . Then a funny thing happened along the long road to Montreal, which hosted the first round of Thursday night’s draft and, coincidentally, also had the fateful first pick. Over the past year, Wright’s stock has fallen, somewhat mysteriously – the Canadian center had a great year at juniors, but some of the hype had undeniably died down and the great Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky had been there to retrieve it.
So while Wright was still the favorite to become No. 1, that was by no means a sure thing. Slafkovsky’s selection of the Canadiens still caught Habs fans off guard:
This crowd sound is easily identifiable, not as joy or displeasure with the choice, but as an acknowledgment that, as the decisions potentially changed the franchise, it was bold. Either it will pay off or we just fucked.
It’s hard to put your finger on what has embittered so many scouts and analysts about 18-year-old Wright. Part of that can certainly be prospect fatigue: if you identify a guy as a future star this early, the next few years inevitably become an exercise in weeding out his flaws. You want to see it continue to grow, but these incremental improvements are just routine and expected – instead, you start to notice its weaknesses, notice where it might not progress as smoothly as you would like. Being a potential No. 1 means being under a huge magnifying glass, and the people who hold it have all the time in the world to turn themselves in on you.
Wright lost an entire year to the pandemic and then had a disappointing start to the 2021-22 season, which likely got him in. Even though he finished strong, scoring 32 goals and 94 points in 63 games, you could kind of see, if you wanted to see and if you were looking for it specifically, the vague outlines of his ceiling. It does everything very well, but perhaps nothing spectacular. Quick, smart, hockey savvy both on and off the puck, the promise of a solid two-way center but maybe not a capital P Game leader. He would have been a sure pick, a solid second-line center at worst. But some teams subscribe to John Tortorella’s old philosophy that safety is death, and Montreal — with Tortorella alumni Martin St. Louis behind the bench and Vincent Lecavalier in the front office — is apparently one of them.
Juraj Slafkovsky does not represent security but promise. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound left winger is blisteringly quick, with enviable puck-handling skills and the body to win battles through physicality, even if it’s not quite his game. He caught the eye of scouts with outstanding performances at the Olympics and World Championships. “All the tools without the toolbox”, as one scout said. He’s your prototype for Europe’s speedy top scorer, and it’s easy and tempting to imagine what he could become and imagine his ceiling higher than Wright’s. His floor is probably lower too. But a team as badly off as Montreal needs a franchise changer, and it’s hard to blame them for taking the risk to go get one.
However, a funny thing happened to Wright after Slafkovsky’s pick: he didn’t go 2nd or 3rd. The Devils, apparently already ready with their future centers, have turned to defenseman Simon Nemec. It makes sense on the face of it, although I don’t exactly recall any team complaining about having too many good crosses. Then the Coyotes selected center Logan Cooley, who projects as a bit more offensively than Wright, and who they had undoubtedly scouted heavily, expecting him to be the clear best player left on the roster. when their choice would come. It must piss Wright that, even with him available, Arizona still went with Cooley.
“I’m definitely going to have a little chip on my shoulder,” Wright said of falling to the top three. “It will definitely give me a bit more fire.”
Wright would go to No. 4 at Kraken, who presumably couldn’t believe their luck. I think it’s a good place for him. There will be less pressure for immediate results in Seattle (although you can say about 30 NHL cities when the comparison is Montreal), and with 2021 second overall pick Matty Beniers already in the fold, he Won’t even necessarily be pressured on Wright to prove himself as a 1C.
It’s going to be a rough night that’s likely to be remembered for a long time in these four cities, and certainly not with universal fondness – that’s just the nature of a rough. As the title suggests, someone will probably regret their choice here. If I could tell you whohowever, I would be a very rich man.