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Wright’s game is growing in ‘leaps and bounds’ |

Patrick Features Writer

A lot Shane WrightThis season’s work focuses on the less visible but important parts of the game.

For any young AHL forward, that can look like something like defensive zone work, tracking, dangling, coverage and all the other aspects that go into making a complete National Hockey League player.

But Wright, a rookie for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, also managed to record 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists) in 59 regular season games and earned a spot on the AHL Top Prospects Team.

And then there are moments like Game 3 against Hershey on Tuesday night, moments when Wright gets a chance to show off the world-class skill that made him the fourth pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, to make the kind of game that shines. the crowd.

Wright’s goal put the game fully in the Firebirds’ control en route to a 6-2 victory that put them ahead of the best-of-seven series, two games to one. Game 4 is tonight (10 ET/7 PT, AHLTV, NHL Network) at Acrisure Arena, where Firebirds fans will get another chance to take in Wright’s elite skills. There’s speed and plenty of shots, of course. But that goal on Tuesday showed what he’s been working on all season.

Wright used his excellent intuition and hockey sense to find an opportunity to get the puck out of the defense. From there, he quickly beat one defender in the Hershey zone. In the left circle, he looked at one defender, using Kole Lind on his right hand as a deception. He hit the brakes, backed off the second Hershey defender and bought himself enough space to cross without interference and blast a shot past. Hunter Shepard.

Wright, who added two assists in Game 3 to give him nine points in nine playoff games, had eight contests with the Kraken earlier this season, producing four goals and an assist. It was a taste of what Seattle fans can expect to see, perhaps as soon as this fall.

This was the year that Wright built his confidence again.

“Knowing that I’m good enough to play here, and that I’m good enough to make a difference and be a solid player and impact the game” have been areas of growth, Wright explained.

“You learn each game, every day. You are talking to [teammates]. Talking to the coaches. Just learning and growing and trying to improve my game as much as I can to try to get better every day here.”

Last season was a whirlwind for the 19-year-old Wright, including time in the NHL, AHL, Ontario Hockey League, and the IIHF World Junior Championship, where he led Canada to a gold medal. Finished back with the Firebirds, playing 24 games during the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Wright didn’t turn 20 until Jan. 5, so he needed to be given eligibility to be assigned to the AHL this season, and the Kraken’s decision to send him to the Coachella Valley paid off. For one thing, he managed to stay in one place and one team, last season being promoted to Seattle. And with the Firebirds, it was the coach’s job Dan Bylsma — who will take over the Kraken bench in the fall — and his staff to finish Wright’s game, to finish what could keep him playing in Seattle for the next decade and beyond.

“I think this year was an opportunity to start your professional career, not to worry about outside noise, not to worry about guesswork or order or all those things,” Bylsma said. “Just to play hockey and play as hard as you can and work on your job and get better.”

Wright has long been familiar with hype and pressure. He entered the OHL at the age of 15 after being awarded “player of the year” status by Hockey Canada, a rare designation reserved for popularity. Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad again John Tavares, among several others. He was the OHL rookie of the year. He has faced a lot of pressure that comes with representing Canada in junior tournaments.

Making it to the Calder Cup Playoffs last year, however, was something different. This spring brought its own challenges, too. Wright missed six games with the injury, including the entire Western Conference Finals against Milwaukee. But he returned in Game 1 against Hershey, stepping into an even bigger role there as a veteran Andrew Poturalski left that game, and has continued to be a strength, a source of quiet confidence, for these Firebirds.

“It’s intense,” Wright said of the AHL postseason. “Hockey is hard. Every player is good. It’s a battle every night. You have to be nice. You have to be sharp.”

That tenacity has benefited Wright, no question. But he also needed to get used to it, too, a chance to meet the team and improve on the ice.

In the 2022 draft, Wright was named by some to go first overall. Instead he passed in fourth place Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec again Logan Cooley.

Bylsma said, “I think there’s a lot that goes into it, mentally and physically, for an 18-year-old kid leading up to being drafted and guessing, not being a freshman, what that means in your first year of camp. . It’s the perfect side of the mind that you’re trying to develop. When we found him at the end of the year, he was still dealing with all these things. This year was an opportunity for him as a person, and mentally and physically he put all those things behind him.”

This season allowed Wright to go through the ups and downs that come with growing as an individual and as a team over a long season.

“Playing in the American Hockey League, 72 games, he got a chance to do that a lot. And one was good, and one was bad. You keep trying to get better at your craft. His game has grown by leaps and bounds this year.”

Throughout the years of hype, Wright mainly tries to blend in with his teammates. A post-game press conference with Wright will elicit more reactions from him if the topic turns to his teammates’ success. With his playfulness, he undermines modesty. Like all of his teammates, Wright entered this season looking to get past the Bears’ seven-game playoff deficit. It was an experience to draw from, but the Firebirds wanted to look ahead, focusing on capturing the Calder Cup itself in 2024.

They are now two wins away from lifting the Calder Cup. They may have a chance to do it Saturday morning on home ice. Still, this series could be Wright’s farewell to the AHL before moving on to the Kraken. His performance throughout the season can only help his chances of breaking into the Seattle program full time next season.

But there is another goal at hand this week.

“He’s definitely looking for a little bit of redemption after last year,” Wright said before the series began. “We were very close last year. We were there. We don’t want to have that feeling again.”

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