There is no world where sitting in the press box and watching NHL games is best for the development of an 18-year-old who is perfectly healthy.
I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with the argument that the Seattle Kraken may have hit the lottery with Shane Wright falling to fourth overall in the draft this past summer. Because of his status for the last few years as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2022 NHL draft and his mature, translatable skillset, he should be able to step right into the NHL despite his fall to fourth.
So far, not so good for a multitude of reasons.
First and foremost, the Kraken have done Wright no favors. They have given him an average of 6:50 in the five games that he's made the lineup. He's also been a healthy scratch three times already in his young career. His total ice time for this season comes to 34:14. For reference, Drew Doughty played 30:12, an NHL single-game high, earlier this season.
Wright has been given 11 shifts in each of his games, aside from one where he was given nine shifts. He hasn’t been asked to play on the power play, a situation teams often put their young players on because it can help build confidence and kickstart early success.
There seems to be a reluctance in putting Wright in the top nine and giving him some room to run since Seattle likely won't make much noise this season, aside from being in the draft lottery at year’s end.
Why not let Wright run with the horses at the top of the lineup and give him a chance to actually be the difference maker that you want him to be? Why not at least give him power-play time, even just on the second unit? Why not allow Wright to make his mistakes and learn early in the NHL season?
Seattle’s roster remains near the bottom of the league in talent despite the infusion of talent with Matty Beniers, Oliver Bjorkstand, and Andre Burkakovsky. By keeping Wright out of the lineup, whose feelings are the Kraken coaching staff trying to save? Yanni Gourde's? Morgan Geekie's? Nothing against those players, but the future of the franchise is far more likely to be in the hands of Wright than anyone currently in the bottom six.
There are so many questions this coaching staff must ask themselves. Coach Dave Hakstol mentioned he needs to get Wright more minutes and then seemingly does everything to limit Wright’s time on ice. Playing Wright on the third line and the second power-play unit would have been all Hakstol needed to do.
In fairness to the Kraken coaching staff, in the minutes that Wright's been given, he hasn't been exceptional so far. He hasn’t been an active play driver and his production has been limited to a single secondary assist – and that wasn’t even announced until later in the game because he barely deflected the puck in the defensive zone up to a 2-on-1 up ice.
With that said, he hasn’t been a negative impact player either. He hasn’t been on the ice for any goals against. Wright currently has a 59.17 expected-goals-percentage according to Natural Stat Trick, while Evolving Hockey has him at a 61.18 xGF%. He's been outshot on the ice a bit, but it’s largely come from low-danger shots to the outside or at the point.
Wright has made a few nice defensive plays as well. The fourth-overall pick looks like he can hang at the NHL level at a minimum.
“Hanging” at the NHL level isn’t what Wright should be doing, though.
Unfortunately for Wright, he isn’t eligible for the AHL the way European players are due to the NHL-CHL agreement. This means if Wright isn’t in the NHL, he must be sent back to junior hockey. If the Kraken aren’t going to play Wright and use the tools at their disposal to help develop Wright and his game, the former Kingston Frontenacs captain should be returned to the OHL club.
Kingston is currently third in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, and injecting a talent like Wright back into the lineup would do wonders for their chances. Adding Wright to a lineup with talents like Francesco Arcuri, Paul Ludwinski, and Ivan Zhigalov could make them an instant favorite in the OHL.
The other factor in sending Wright back into the OHL is that he lost a year of development in 2020-21 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the OHL down for a full season. Wright’s development was stunted, and it resulted in going from being thought of as the unchallenged first-overall pick to falling to fourth overall on draft day.
Wright tied McDavid’s scoring output in fewer games as a 15-year-old in the OHL and was on pace to challenge John Tavares’ record. His offensive potential was near generational. His mature approach to the game led to defensive results. Wright was supposed to be the next big star to come out of the OHL.
His confidence could also use the rehabilitation that a successful OHL season and competing for a gold medal on the world juniors stage would do.
Wright put up a 94-point season in his draft year with the Fronts and had his World Junior Championship opportunity cut short by the cancelled tournament last winter. Going back to the OHL to dominate the league, leading Kingston as challengers for the OHL title and taking a leading role at the world juniors with the Canadian team could do wonders for Wright.
It boils down to one thing: Wright needs to get into game action.
Whether it’s in Seattle playing 15 minutes a night or in Kingston playing over 20 minutes, Wright must play hockey. If the Kraken ever think he could be the player the hockey world once thought he could be, they must decide now what they want to do.