Two players have applied for exceptional status this year in order to enter the major junior ranks a year early: Matthew Savoie could become the first ever in the WHL, while Shane Wright is the latest for the OHL, whose past successful candidates include Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad and John Tavares, whom the concept is informally named after (aka “The John Tavares Rule”).
So who is Shane Wright? I had the chance to speak with him in the summer, after watching him match skills with a bevy of other young stars at a Power Edge Pro camp in Toronto. Other junior invitees included last year’s No. 1 pick in the OHL draft, Quinton Byfield, and No. 1 USHL pick Stephen Halliday. Wright held his own in a souped-up scrimmage and he has impressed those around him, including PEP founder and head Joe Quinn.
“He’s physically mature,” Quinn said. “He’s a two-way player, not just a skill guy – he’s back in the zone and he works hard.”
Quinn also praised Wright’s speed and reaction time and that combination of talents underscores why the youngster believed he was ready to make the leap to the OHL as a 15-year-old. In terms of influences, the kid has a pretty good model.
“Definitely Matt Barzal on the Islanders,” Wright said. “Really skilled player, fast, good hands, great passer, great vision as well – I want to make my game as close to his as possible.”
Starring for the Toronto-based Don Mills Flyers, Wright is the latest NHL talent to come from a program that also berthed Mitch Marner, Max Domi and Darnell Nurse in recent years. Right now, the Flyers are the top-ranked minor midget team in the OHL’s rankings, which will make them one of the favorites once the OHL Cup championship tournament rolls around in the spring. Wright credited the Don Mills coaches and owners for putting together a good program and in the intense world of Toronto minor hockey, attracting and keeping talents such as Wright can be a war.
Similarly, agents were lining up to sign the kid since the summer of 2017; obviously a wild experience for a kid who was only 13 at the time.
“That was pretty cool,” Wright said. “I had heard about agents, but I didn’t really know exactly what they were – I didn’t connect it. Soon I learned and it was pretty special to be recognized by those guys.”
In the end, Wright chose Kurt Overhardt’s KO Sports (John Gibson, Ryan Johansen, etc.) to help him through his hockey journey, with Cam Stewart advising on the ground in Toronto.
Now that he’s going for exceptional status, he’ll need that support more than ever. The process of earning the status includes not only an on-ice assessment of Wright’s talents, but also a sizeable off-ice portion that looks into his maturity; is Wright ready to live on his own already, potentially in the United States if Flint, Erie or Saginaw draft him? Officials will interview his coaches and school teachers to get that answer, while a psychologist will sit down with Wright himself.
If he makes it, the focus for fans will be on what he brings to the ice and Wright knows where he wants to take his game.
“I feel my decision-making is the strongest part of my game right now,” he said. “I want to get better with my quickness. You see Connor McDavid and those guys; they’re standing still and then they’re full-speed within three steps. I want to work on that.”
He already has a great base to work off and if Hockey Canada believes he is ready, Wright will be dazzling OHL crowds next season.