As the latest OHL prospect to receive the exceptional status designation to join the league a year early, center Shane Wright joined the Kingston Frontenacs with a ton of hype. As an underager, he led the minor midget Don Mills Flyers to a nearly unbeaten 2018-19 season and an OHL Cup title. Naturally, the Frontenacs snapped him up with the first overall pick in the 2019 OHL Draft and made him the focal point of a rebuild that saw the team starting from scratch.
From the outset, it looked as though Kingston wouldn't have much firepower this year and another finish in the basement was predicted. But Wright surpassed expectations and even threatened John Tavares' exceptional status rookie scoring record in the OHL, before the remainder of the OHL campaign was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only did Wright lead all OHL rookies in scoring with 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games (Tavares had 77 as a rookie with Oshawa; Connor McDavid had 66 with Erie), but he also led the Frontenacs in scoring, with a seven-point margin. When the season was cancelled, Kingston was in a playoff spot.
But Wright isn't taking his extended off-season lying down. Thanks to trainer Paul Ferri, the 16-year-old has a full set-up back home in Burlington, Ont.
"He dropped off some equipment at my house and we have it set up in the garage," Wright said. "He's sending me workouts to do so I can work out as usual. We have a squat rack with a bar, some plates, some dumbbells, some kettlebells and medicine balls."
Jumping from minor midget to the OHL is never easy, but doing it a year early requires a lot of mental and physical fortitude. Based on the results, Wright passed that challenge with flying colors, though there was a learning curve.
"We had to go every single day," he said. "You have school, you have practice and workouts, it's go-go-go. At the start there was an adjustment - long days, tiring days - but as the season progressed, I got more comfortable with that and I could handle it easier. I felt like every game I was getting better and by the end I was feeling really good about myself."
A big spark for Wright and Kingston came midway through the year when import pick Martin Chromiak came over from Slovakia. The talented left winger formed a line with fellow 2020 NHL draft prospect Zayde Wisdom and Wright (who isn't eligible until 2022, but will most likely go first overall then).
"We all played well off each other," Wright said. "Zayde is a hard worker and can finish, while Chromiak is such a smart player who makes plays and finish too. Having two guys on my line who can score and make plays was pretty fun."
NHL talent hawks also noticed a big difference with Kingston once that trio came together after New Year's.
"Kingston didn’t have a defined line until they came together," said one scout. "Chromiak skates really well and makes plays at speed. He helped Wright and Wright helped him."
Even though it's been just a year, Wright is no longer the newest Canadian player to earn exceptional status - that honor goes to Vancouver's Connor Bedard, who was recently the first player ever to receive that designation for the WHL. Wright and Bedard know each other, having attended Power Edge Pro camp in Toronto before, so Wright sent Bedard a congratulatory message on Instagram upon hearing the news.
"From what I've seen, he's a special player and deserved the exceptional status," Wright said.
And while it's going to be a few years before either is eligible for the NHL, it's fair to say that based on their profiles, we'll be seeing a lot of Wright and Bedard for a long time once they do get there.