There might not be a player at Canada's world junior selection camp with less pressure on him than Shane Wright.
On the other hand, he's got the toughest road to actually make the team.
It's hard to play in the tournament at 16, but it's even harder when you have a team as deep as Canada. Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, Connor McDavid, Jason Spezza, Bill Campbell and Jay Bouwmeester are the only players to ever make the team at that age. Take a quick look at this list – it features some of the greatest players of their respective generations, including the Great One himself.
Will Wright join the group of illustrious talents? Without having any games played this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's not just a long road to the top – it's the Autobahn, but instead of maxing out a high-performance Bugatti, you're strapped into a 1969 Fiat 500. Simply put, this won't be easy. At all.
But Hockey Canada brought Wright to camp for a reason, and while preparing him for a spot on the 2022 team is definitely one of them, he's not there to just skate around. Wright has a chance to prove why he's considered exceptional in a way very few players have ever been viewed in Hockey Canada's eyes.
"Obviously, it was a goal for me," Wright said on making the team. "Last year, I felt like I had a very strong end to the season. I definitely feel like my play from last year gave me a chance to be invited to this camp."
Canada brought a 46-man roster for the month-long selection camp process in Red Deer, Alberta, an unheard-of situation for Canada heading to the World Junior Championship in Edmonton in December. With the OHL and WHL out of action, this is the first real game action many of Canada's players have taken part in for the year. Based on early reports, Wright looked like he can handle all the challenges sent his way.
"He's an exceptional player," said defenseman Bowen Byram, Wright's roommate in Red Deer. "He's so mature and strong. He doesn't stand out in a negative way on the ice."
Wright's status as the top prospect for the 2022 draft was left unquestioned after his OHL rookie season where he finished with 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games for Kingston. For comparison, had he played a full season without the stoppage due to COVID-19, Wright would have likely topped John Tavares, Jason Spezza and Connor McDavid as the all-time leading scorer in the OHL among U-16 players. It's a shame that we can't see what he'd do as a sophomore in a full campaign because 100 points wouldn't have been out of the question.
But that also brings up a talking point: sure, most of the team hasn't played this year, but we're mainly talking about 18- and 19-year-olds with a year or two more experience in major junior. It's hard enough for a 16-year-old to crack Canada's roster, let alone one that hasn't played a competitive game in eight months with just his OHL rookie season to boot. That'll make taking a spot away from the veterans a bit tougher, but given the longer camp, that gives Wright some time to force his way onto the squad.
At the very least, he's got the support of a VIP: head coach Andre Tourigny.
“I don’t know if I Iove him or hate him when he’s in that yellow (Kingston) jersey," Tourigny said in a press call after Canada announced its selection camp roster. "I saw him at Christmas and said, 'Oh my God, he's really good'. And then I saw him at the end of the season and said, 'This guy's a superstar'. Every time I saw him, he got better."
If Wright can make his way onto Canada's roster, it would be an achievement very few can claim ownership of. His age definitely makes him an underdog in an event often dominated by 19-year-olds, but Wright doesn't believe his age will hurt him in the slightest.
"I'm used to being the youngest guy on the team," Wright said. "I know I'm here because I can make this team."