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Wright on managing expectations: ‘I’ve had to learn what it’s like to be a pro’


Shane Wright is still feeling the sting of losing Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals.

For the second year in a row, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, the AHL affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, lost in the finals, with Wright a part of both playoff runs.

Despite the disappointment, the 20-year-old forward learned a lot from both playoff runs.

“We’re learning what it takes to actually get over that finish line, to be able to win and close out games, [that] is huge,” said Wright on First Up with Aaron Korolnek and Carlo Colaiacovo. “Definitely two experiences that really helped me, and [ones] that I’ll be able to lean on moving forward.”

After joining the Firebirds during the 2022-23 playoff run where he had nine points in 24 games, Wright graduated to the AHL ranks a year early as a 19-year-old for the 2023-24 campaign. Last season, he had 22 goals and 47 points in 59 regular-season games in the AHL and had four goals and 12 points in 13 playoff games.

He also had eight games last season with the Kraken, scoring four goals with one assist.

After playing his junior hockey in Kingston and Windsor, the Burlington, Ont., native got a massive change in scenery in moving from small cities in Ontario to the California desert.

“You’re living in the desert. It’s different than what I’m used to being from Toronto,” said Wright. “It’s warm there, it’s nice weather, but it’s a different place for hockey, that’s for sure. But I loved it there. I love living there, playing there, the fans. Nothing but good things to say about the Valley.”

After missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Kraken made a number of off-season changes. In free agency, they brought in defenceman Brandon Montour and forward Chandler Stephenson on long-term deals

They also made a change behind the bench, firing the first-ever head coach in franchise history in Dave Hakstol and replaced him with Dan Bylsma, who spent the past two seasons as head coach of the Firebirds.

Bylsma, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win a Stanley Cup championship in 2009, has had a big influence on Wright, who is looking forward to reuniting with him at training camp.

“To be able to have a coach like that who I have a relationship and a connection with and who I really enjoyed playing for is definitely huge,” said Wright of Bylsma. “It’s definitely something that I’m looking forward to and kind of talking to him and getting in training camp.

“I know what he likes and the style of player he wants me to be, so I want to be able to go into training camp and show them that and show that I deserve a spot on that team.”

Wright is no stranger to dealing with expectations. As a teenager, he was granted exceptional status to enter the OHL a year early as a 15-year-old with the Kingston Frontenacs. In 2022, he was drafted fourth overall by Seattle.

Having previously captured CHL and OHL Rookie of the Year honours, as well as captaining Canada to gold internationally at the U18s and World Juniors, Wright admits he has had a lot to learn in making the full-time jump from junior to pro.

“Obviously there’s outside expectations, the outside pressures,” said Wright. “But at the end of the day I have my own expectations on myself and that’s really what I’ve focused on – just go about my business day to day.

“It’s certainly been a process for me, I’ve had to learn what it’s like to be a pro, to take that next step, to be able to have success and be an impact player at that level."