After weeks of their Shane Wright decisions being second guessed across the hockey landscape, the Kraken finally found a way to get their first-round draft pick some playing time.
The Kraken took advantage of a loophole in NHL rules Sunday and shipped Wright, 18, to their American Hockey League affiliate in Coachella Valley, California. As a teenager drafted No. 4 overall last summer by the Kraken from the major junior ranks, Wright wasn’t ordinarily eligible for minor professional play.
The loophole allows any NHL player that’s a healthy scratch for five consecutive games to be sent to the AHL on a onetime conditioning stint for a maximum of five games or 14 days. It’s widely expected, though the Kraken have yet to confirm anything, that Wright will be sent to play for Team Canada in next month’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships shortly after his AHL stint is completed.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis said by text Sunday that the team plans on “calling him back here to play a game or two before making that decision.”
Wright was held to a lone assist in seven games of sparse playing time for the Kraken. He can play in two more contests before the team would face a decision on keeping him or sending him back to his former junior team. If Wright appears in 10 or more NHL games, it counts as a full season toward his three-year entry-level contract and brings him closer to free agency.
A longstanding agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League — which comprises the three major junior hockey circuits — mandates that draft picks aged 18 and 19 that don’t stick at hockey’s top level must be returned to their junior squads in lieu of the minor pro AHL or ECHL. The Kraken have long felt Wright had little to gain in returning to the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, but they have struggled to find playing time for him on a much-improved 10-5-3 team in the thick of the Pacific Division race.
Sunday’s move effectively buys the Kraken another six weeks or so, if they choose, before making a final call. The AHL stint and a brief return by Wright for a game or two would bridge the remaining time until Team Canada holds a selection camp for the world juniors Dec. 9-12 in Moncton, New Brunswick.
The junior tournament is to take place Dec. 26 and runs through to Jan. 5 in Moncton and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
By placing Wright in the tournament, the Kraken could gauge his play against some of the top under-20 aged players on the planet before deciding how he’ll finish his season. The Kraken could send Wright back to junior hockey at any time after his nine-game NHL trial stint is up, but it would still count as a full season on his contract.
Another consideration is the Kraken could ask Kingston to orchestrate a trade that would send Wright to a junior squad with aspirations of making it to the Memorial Cup championship tournament next spring. Such a move would help ensure Wright faces higher intensity competition if he is returned to junior.