Shane Wright did not play a game of competitive hockey for 415 days.
Naturally, in his first game back in a meaningful fashion, Wright scored a hat-trick against Sweden in a 12-1 win. The last time he scored in the OHL, he also had a hat-trick 422 days earlier.
Fast forward to Thursday, and Shane Wright scored two goals to help lead Canada to a 5-3 victory over Sweden, 424 days after his final contest with Kingston before the shutdown. This time, he finishes the season with six games played, including one exhibition.
And a medal around his neck.
In a tournament where Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov seemed to have stolen everyone’s attention, Wright almost seemed underrated, to a point. Wright and Bedard tied for second in scoring with 14 points each, with Wright playing in two fewer games. He scored in all five games – each of them a multi-point effort – and he somehow didn’t come away with a media or a tournament directorate award.
Not that he cares. He’s team-first all the way, and Canada won the gold. That’s all that matters to him. He’s mature beyond his years – it’s so hard to remember he’s just 17 and a year away from the NHL draft, where he’s expected to go first overall in a talent-hungry prospect crop. Like The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell said, it’s like watching a young Mark Messier, without the scowl.
Canada relied heavily on its two young stars, Bedard and Wright. That’s not to take away from anything the 2021 draft class was able to do with Canada – it was a total team effort and without them, they still had the depth to be a contender. But with Wright in particular, to see how dominant he was for Canada despite not having anything but a short training camp session with Canada’s World Junior Championship team to build off of since his successful rookie season in Kingston just speaks volumes about special this kid is.
One scout described it as, “If Bedard is like McDavid, then Wright is like Crosby.” That’s a ton of pressure on the young kid, but guys like Wright thrive in situations like this. Wright has been viewed as one of the top kids in his age group for half a decade for a reason. Someone who can earn exceptional status so easily and live up to the expectations on a poor team is remarkable. And then to have all this time off in a strange year that will prevent Wright from potentially setting OHL records with his performance, only to be one of the best players in a tournament full of high-end talent – runs like Wright’s are rare.
Every time Wright hit the ice, you noticed. When he missed two games, you noticed the hole left in the lineup. When he returned, it was like magic. Wright’s nine goals set a Team Canada record at this tournament and were five shy of the all-time record shared by Alex Ovechkin and Cole Caufield, two of the best sharpshooters of their generation. Could Wright have beaten that had he played against Latvia and Switzerland, two of the weaker teams in the tournament? Quite possibly. It doesn’t matter now, but it’s crazy to think “what if?”
Wright can return next year, but Kingston doesn’t want to miss out on the playoffs again. If this was the one and only time he got to play at the U-18 World Championship, you couldn’t have asked for a better performance. Wright will most definitely be one of the biggest contributors on Canada’s World Junior Championship team in Edmonton next year,
And then from there, there will be the NHL draft. Teams near the bottom of the standings always want a chance at the No. 1 pick – it’s the best chance of getting the star player you need, after all. But in 2022, there will be more than a few teams vying for the chance to select Wright, and rightfully so. He’s a special player that we rarely get to see – even though Bedard is growing up with him at the same time. Wright is someone who could change a franchise for the better, and what we got to see of him in Texas over the past two weeks is something nobody that watched him play will soon forget.