After they selected Shane Wright first overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft last year, the Frontenacs invited the Don Mills Flyer product to Kingston City Hall to formally introduce him to the community.
"We forgot to mention to Shane that he would have to get up and speak," recalled general manager Darren Keily with a smile. "We said basically, 'Hey Shane, you got to say a few words,' and he didn’t skip a beat. He got up in front of a large crowd of people and handled himself really well. It goes to show his maturity."
Called to the podium by Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour, then the team's president, Wright immediately thanked his parents and sister for their support. He proceeded to thank the Frontenacs for placing their trust in him while listing off all the key figures in the organization even mentioning the team's head scout.
"I wasn't sure what was going to happen," said Wright. "I knew in the back of my mind that maybe I'd have to say something so I was trying to get a little prepared beforehand but, yeah, a little surprised."
Public speaking, like hockey, seems to come naturally to the teenager.
"I'm pretty comfortable with it," Wright explained. "I've done it quite a few times now and every single time I do it I get more comfortable and more confident."
On the ice, Wright is also at home in the spotlight. Wright is the fifth player to receive exceptional status in the OHL, which allowed him to play major junior hockey as a 15-year-old. The two other forwards given the designation are John Tavares and Connor McDavid. Wright posted 66 points in 58 games this season or 1.14 per game. That's better than McDavid's mark as a freshman in Erie (1.05) and just behind what Tavares accomplished in his first year in Oshawa (1.18).
Wright was so impressive that just after Christmas, the Frontenacs named him an alternate captain making him the youngest player in Canadian Hockey League history to wear a letter.
"A couple times we had a guy, who had been a healthy scratch or maybe things weren't going well for him and I'm up there watching practice and you can see Shane gravitate to that player," Keily said. "He would say, 'Hey, it's okay,' and give them the old stick tap on the legs and say, 'Let's go have fun.' For him to be that in tune with his teammates, for me, really stood out."
Wright, who isn't eligible for the National Hockey League draft until 2022, reflected on his remarkable rookie run in a Zoom call with TSN on Tuesday. The Burlington, Ont., native also shared his first impressions of new coach Paul McFarland and explained why Sidney Crosby and Mathew Barzal are the players he enjoys watching the most.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Did Gilmour have any advice for you after you were drafted?
"Yeah, he said I should play my game and be confident. He said, 'Don't try and be someone you're not, don't try and do something that's not within your abilities, just play your own game and do it the way you're used to.'"
Kingston got off to a slow start, winning just one of its first 19 games. How did you process that?
"I hate losing. When we didn't have the strongest start, it was tough on me. It was tough losing quite a few games in a row, but I felt like that gave me the strength to keep pushing, keep coming to the rink every day, making myself better, being a good teammate, learning from my coaches. Throughout the season we all gained some strength from that and kept improving."
Did you experience a welcome-to-the-OHL moment?
"My first goal. That was really special for me. I was thinking, 'Wow, this is real, I'm actually playing in the OHL in front of these large crowds and I can actually compete against these guys and compete in this league.' I think that was probably the biggest welcome-to-the-league moment for me."
What happened on the play?
"I got the puck in the neutral zone and went down the half wall, flipped it to the middle to my linemate, then the puck got knocked to the corner, I picked it up in the corner and cut to the net and just shot it and saw it go in and it was a pretty surreal moment. I was pretty excited."
What was the biggest adjustment this season?
"The league's older with much bigger players and it's a lot more physical so that was probably the biggest adjustment. I was playing against NHL draft picks every single night so it was an adjustment for me with the speed and physicality of the game. But as the season went on I started gaining more confidence that I belonged there and could play in the league."
What went through your mind when you found out they were naming you an alternate captain?
"I was incredibly honoured. I've always seen myself as a leader no matter where I go. I always try to lead by example and try to be a vocal leader as well. I feel like I gained my teammates trust and they trusted me and so did my coaches."
Being a leader can be tricky when you're the youngest guy on the ice. What gave you the confidence to take on that role?
"I think that's just in my nature. That's just the person I am. I always try and make my teammates better. I always try to make myself better. If I see someone slacking off I'm going to tell them to wake up and get going. That's just the type of person I am and type of leader I am."
In terms of points per game, you were ahead of McDavid's rookie pace and just behind Tavares. What are you most proud of about your season?
"What you mentioned was obviously special to accomplish. But I feel like, as a team, the best part of the season was that we made the playoffs. Going into the season that was the goal for our team. Even if we just got the eight seed and maybe got knocked out in the first round just the experience of making the playoffs was a huge goal. We were really excited when we made it. Obviously, it wasn't the way we wanted to with the season being cut short and we weren't able to play in a series, but just having that accomplishment of making the playoffs was huge for our team."
Did you have a favourite personal moment from the season?
"Yeah, a couple. My first goal. Also, when we were in our camouflage jerseys on military appreciation night I scored the OT goal and that was pretty special."
In a recent 'Quick Hits' segment posted by the OHL you mentioned the toughest guy you faced was Flint's Ty Dellandrea. What sort of challenge was it facing him?
"I think I won like one faceoff against him that night. Playing in the offensive zone against him, he's such a smart player, such a physical player that he's tough to play against. And he can score, too. He got a couple in the game I played against him. So, yeah, he's not fun to play against."
Have you had the chance to speak with new coach Paul McFarland yet?
"We had a team Zoom call with him this past week, which went really well. He's an intense coach. I can tell he's a smart guy, who knows what he's talking about. He just wants to win and wants our team to be successful."
Did you guys have a conversation?
"I talked to him on FaceTime. He was going over his coaching style and what he expects from myself and the team this year."
What's his message to you?
"He just wants me to keep doing what I'm doing and keep growing and developing. He thinks I'm on a pretty good path now and he thinks he can help take me to the next level and I'm all over that. I'm all about improving myself in any way possible so I'm excited."
You mentioned that McFarland is 'intense', what gave you that impression?
"Just what he's done so far like sending us clips [about] stuff he wants us to work on. He gave us a PowerPoint presentation on the Zoom call so just his preparation and his passion for the game and passion for trying to make himself and his players better is what I'm pretty excited for."
What are you focused on this summer?
"For me, this off-season is all about gaining muscle and making myself bigger physically. I feel like if I put on a few pounds of muscle it'll be, not easier, but I'll be able to hold my own more against the bigger, stronger players in the league. As well, once we get back on the ice I'll work on my quickness and the first three steps and that can really take my game to the next level."
What's your daily routine right now?
"I get up in the morning and do a workout for an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half and then usually just have some chill time after that. Then I usually do some schoolwork and then shoot pucks or rollerblade or stickhandle, then eat dinner and then I'm done."
Are the days starting to blend together?
"Yeah, yeah, I'm not sure which day is which anymore, they're kind of all [blending] together. I'm doing pretty much the same things every day."
Which NHL players do you like to watch the most and why?
"Two guys. Growing up I was always a huge Sidney Crosby fan. I was always a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and he was always my favourite player. Just his compete and the way he plays the game, he's such a leader. He seems like he's good at pretty much everything and he's a winner, too. He's won three Stanley Cups, multiple awards, gold medals so he's definitely a guy I look up to. And I like to watch Matt Barzal as well. I feel like I play a sort of style like he does. He's a quick, smart, fast player that makes his teammates better, makes fast, smart plays so a fun player to watch."