“What don’t I like about Shane? Nothing,” said Craig Button, TSN director of scouting, NHL analyst and a former NHL general manager. “If [Wright] was eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, he’d be the best player, far and away, and I love Owen Power (chosen No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 NHL Draft).
“(Boston Bruins captain) Patrice Bergeron is an unbelievable player, a future Hall of Famer. When I’m comparing players I’ll sometimes say ‘He’s a lower-case Patrice Bergeron.’ But with Shane Wright, he’s an upper-case Patrice Bergeron. He’s brilliant and I’d put Shane Wright in that category of great because there’s no part of the game where he doesn’t excel.”
Wright (6-foot, 188 pounds), a right-shot center, starred as a 17-year-old at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, scoring 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in five games while serving as captain for first-place Canada. He’s expected to be a fixture for his country at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, which will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2022, in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
“He was a leader for Kingston and served as an assistant captain as a 15-year-old, which speaks volumes,” NHL Central Scouting’s Joey Tenute said. “He’s a very mature player for his age, has an elite-level hockey IQ, and excellent work ethic and compete level. He plays a strong two-way game with pro structure and habits and has an excellent shot with an unpredictable release that can beat goalies from any angle.
“Shane is the definition of a hockey player and will be a franchise player in the NHL in a few years.”
Wright was playing with the Don Mills Flyers Minor Midget AAA team when granted exceptional-player status by Hockey Canada in March 2019 and was selected No. 1 by Kingston in the 2019 OHL draft. He was named rookie of the year in the Canadian Hockey League after scoring 66 points (39 goals, 27 assists) in 58 games in 2019-20.
The only hockey Wright played this season was the U-18 Worlds. The OHL canceled its 2020-21 season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Wright was the sixth player to receive exceptional-player status, following Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (2005), Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (2011), Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (2012), Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman prospect Sean Day (2013) and Detroit Red Wings forward prospect Joe Veleno (2015).
Other players projected as first-round candidates in the 2022 draft are forwards Brad Lambert of JYP in Liiga, Finland’s top professional men’s league, Juraj Slafkovsky of TPS in Finland and Matt Savoie of Winnipeg in the Western Hockey League, and defenseman Simon Nemec of Nitra in Tipos Extraliga, the top professional league in Slovakia.
Lambert (6-0, 164), a right-shot center, scored 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 46 games for JYP this season. He had four assists in seven games for third-place Finland at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship and five assists in five games in a fourth-place finish with Finland at the U-18 Worlds. He is under contract with JYP through next season.
Lambert was born in Lahti, Finland. His mother is from Finland, his father from Canada and his uncle, Lane Lambert, is an associate coach of the New York Islanders.
“Brad is a mobile, good skater with acceleration and good straightaway speed,” said Goran Stubb, European director of NHL Central Scouting. “He’s a smart playmaker, often running the power play. He’s skilled, talented and a hard-working player. He’s good at changing angles and finding space to get a shot or pass through traffic and he plays a competitive two-way game. I feel he should be a top-10 pick in the 2022 draft.”
Slafkovksy (6-4, 216), who can play center or wing, was the youngest player (17 years old) for Slovakia at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, averaging 12:35 of ice time in six games. He scored 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 16 games for TPS in Finland’s junior league.
“He skates surprisingly well for a big man with very good vision and understanding of the game,” Stubb said. “He protects the puck well, makes some great plays, and has shown that he’ll be a top name for the 2022 draft.”
Savoie (5-9, 177), a right wing, scored 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists) in 52 games as a rookie on loan with Dubuque of the United States Hockey League. He was second on Dubuque with five power-play goals and was tied for first with two shorthanded goals.
“He’s got a nice burst, good hands and is able to change the angle on his shot; he’s got a great wrist shot,” Greg Rajanen of Central Scouting said. “He’s got high hockey IQ, good vision in finding open teammates and can make plays while under pressure. He took hits to make plays and is good at taking the puck to the net.”
Nemec (6-1, 192), a right-shot defenseman, scored 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 37 games in Slovakia’s top division. The 17-year-old was the youngest player on Slovakia at the 2021 WJC and had four assists in five games.
“He’s a smart defenseman with a good set of tools … a good skater with fine mobility,” Stubb said. “He’s young but plays a surprisingly mature game, is physically strong and is cool, calm and never panics.”
Photo credit: Billy Kimmerly, Kingston
Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class