With a full slate of players from the OHL and WHL at their disposal, Team Canada's staff had an embarrassment of riches when it came to picking this year's squad for the World Under-18 Championship in Texas.
And with all that talent collected, the captaincy still went to one of the youngest players on the team, Kingston Frontenacs center Shane Wright.
The top prospect for the 2022 NHL draft, Wright is the most recent player to get exceptional status in the OHL, and his maturity was a big factor in earning him the ‘C’ for the under-18s. “It wasn’t a freebie by any stretch of the imagination,” said Canada coach Dave Barr. “We talked about it as a coaching staff with our management, and going around the room it was pretty much unanimous. It was because of his demeanor off the ice and the respect he garnered from his teammates because of the way he carries himself and plays. He’s not overly vocal, but he’s a competitor who communicates well. It was actually a fairly easy decision.”
Wright racked up 14 points in five games en route to an under-18 gold medal (he missed some time in the round-robin due to a minor injury). It was all quite impressive, given that the OHL season was canceled, meaning Wright hadn’t played a real game since March 2020. “It was almost 14 months since I last played an actual game,” he said, “so the feeling of getting on the ice with my team and being able to compete was a really good feeling overall.”
Wright did have one reprieve during that stretch, as he was chosen to participate in Canada’s world-junior camp in Alberta. Though he ultimately didn’t make the squad, Wright made a positive impression with Hockey Canada. “That was a great experience for me,” he said. “They were the best players at that age group around the country, and it was good to see where they were at with their skills and how I matched up against them. It was great to see what they did on a day-to-day basis.”
Speaking of day-to-day routines, part of the reason Wright has been so successful in his young career is because of the habits he has developed. Once again, it’s part of the maturity that allowed him to enter the OHL a year early and thrive as major junior’s rookie of the year. “If you have good habits you have everything prepared,” Wright said. “You’re making sure you’re eliminating distractions before and during a game, and you’re focused 100 percent on preparing and playing the best that you can.”
And when Wright is on his game, he’s a beast. He didn’t look like an underager at the world under-18s. “He can play a fast game,” Barr said. “He reminds me of Nathan MacKinnon, he’s fast, physical and strong. Simon Edvinsson on Sweden is 6-foot-5, and Shane rocked him twice on the same shift. He plays the right way, and he plays a very fast game. And he knows how to shoot the puck.”
Assuming the OHL gets back on the ice in the fall, Wright will be the marquee player to watch and the front-runner to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NHL draft. And even though he has only spent three-quarters of a season in Kingston so far, the kid is itching to get back in a Frontenacs jersey.
“I can’t wait to get back to Kingston,” Wright said. “I can’t wait to get back to the city and our Leon’s Centre and to be with the guys and compete with them. It’s been too long. I’m champing at the bit.”