Don Mills Flyers star Shane Wright has been granted “exceptional status” to join the OHL a year early. Wright, a super-skilled center with the Toronto-based team, will be eligible for the junior league’s draft on April 6, despite the fact he just turned 15 years old in January. According to a couple OHL GMs I spoke to, Wright is a lock to go first overall. He scored 150 points in 72 games this year while playing in the most competitive minor midget circuit around, the Greater Toronto Hockey League.
"He'll be a really good playmaker and he'll score a lot of goals," said one OHL GM. "Strong on his skates, good edgework and good stride. And I hear he's a great kid off the ice, too."
The “exceptional status” designation has been used several times over the years, with John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and Sean Day all qualifying in the OHL. Detroit Red Wings pick Joe Veleno was granted the exception in the QMJHL, while Matt Savoie may end up being the first WHL prospect to garner the status this year. Tavares, Ekblad and McDavid ended up going first overall in the NHL draft too.
“I’m so honored to be selected for this,” Wright said. “It’s been a goal of mine for quite awhile. I watched those guys on TV almost every night.”
Wright has played for an absolutely dominant Don Mills team this season and the Flyers have consistently been ranked as the No. 1 minor midget team eligible for the OHL Cup, which kicks off next week in Toronto. In fact, two other Flyers will go high in the draft next month: defenseman Brandt Clarke and left winger Brennan Othmann.
Looking at the OHL standings, Wright’s two possible destinations are Kingston or Flint. The Frontenacs currently sit last in the league, with the Firebirds one point ahead and a game in hand. Some prospects have balked at the idea of playing in Flint in the past, but the Firebirds did sign 2018 first-rounder Evan Vierling and third-rounder Michael Bianconi this year, with both contributing on a regular basis. Second-rounder Owen Power was a gamble, since he had strong NCAA aspirations, and the defenseman did indeed go to the USHL this season, where his eligibility is preserved. Power is a University of Michigan commit. Kingston has not had problems signing their top draft picks recently, though Max Domi held out as a first-rounder, forcing a trade to London years ago. Wright wasn’t sure about his potential destinations just yet.
“Honestly, I haven’t had a lot of time to think about that,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to talking with the teams that might be selecting me.”
Being granted “exceptional status” isn’t easy. Submissions are due by Dec. 1, which is pretty early in the hockey season. On top of looking at a player’s on-ice skills, the governing bodies (in this case the Ontario Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada) send out questionnaires to school teachers and coaches, while the player has to write an essay. The player also meets with a psychologist for a “life interview,” to determine if the kid has the maturity to move away from home and compete against much older competition at age 15. OHF executive director Phil McKee said that both Wright and his family were “excellent to work with” throughout the process and for Wright, the most difficult thing was waiting for the actual decision.
Wherever Wright ends up next year, he’s going to make an OHL team very happy. The kid has played a year up ever since he began playing hockey, so entering the OHL a year early is not as daunting for Wright as one might surmise.
“Growing up, I always felt I belonged,” he said. “And I always felt I could make a difference.”