In 2005, the talk of the hockey world was John Tavares. The 1989 birth year was up for the OHL Priority Selection Draft, but John Tavares, a late 1990 birth day, was declared eligible for the draft. Hockey Canada, Canada’s governing hockey system, gave Tavares Exception Player Status to allow him to compete in the Canadian Hockey League a year early.
This was because Tavares was such a dominant player in youth hockey that they couldn’t allow him to play another year in his youth league. Since then, four other players have been granted such status.
Hockey Canada Exceptional Player Status is given to a player deemed exceptional compare to his peers. A player can apply to be given the status and be able to play in the WHL, OHL or QMJHL a year prior to their normal eligibility. After an extensive review process, Hockey Canada decides what would be best for the player’s development, if the player can uphold the high standards of the status and if the player is mentally and physically ready for junior hockey.
Five players in total have been given the status. Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid all received the honour and went on to be taken 1st overall in their respective NHL Drafts. The next two players were Sean Day as well as Joe Veleno. Day was a 3rd rounder to the Rangers and Veleno was taken 30th overall to the Red Wings.
Although there is a likely addition to the list. Shane Wright appears to be the next exceptional player to enter the Canadian Hockey League, specifically the Ontario Hockey League while also doing so a year early.
Shane Wright is a 2004 birth year and 2022 NHL Draft eligible player who plays for the Don Mills Flyers of the GTHL (Greater Toronto Hockey League). He plays a year up with the Don Mills 2003 team that is stacked with a fair bit of talent. Players like Brandt Clarke, Roman Schmidt and Brennan Othmann are all top prospects for the 2019 OHL Draft while, without Exceptional Status, Wright wouldn’t be eligible until 2020. Despite this, Wright dominated the GTHL and was the league’s best player. Wright has shown himself to be a 2004 outplaying the entire 2003 OHL class.
The Don Mills Flyers team have been dominant in tournament competition as well as league play. At the Toronto Titans Prospect Tournament, Don Mills was 8-0-0 and Wright led the tournament in scoring with 8 goals, 9 assists and 17 points in 8 games. Wright was staggeringly dominant every time he hit the ice and led his team to the championship over the high scoring Chicago Mission.
Don Mills also attended the Wendy Dufton Memorial Tournament where they again went 8-0-0. They finished with 51 goals for and 4 goals against. Brennan Othmann led the tournament with 16 goals, 9 assists, for 25 points in those 8 games. Although, behind him was Shane Wright with 7 goals, 10 assists, for 17 points in 8 games.
Wright’s on ice success lies in his playmaking ability, his incredible hockey IQ and skating. Wright’s strength is mainly his playmaking abilities, which he derives from his mind for the game. He’s never faced an opponent that he can’t out think and out play.
His senses and vision of the ice are unmatched by any player his age. He’s great at finding his teammates and creating space for them. And when he gets stuck in a bad place, his creativity can get him out of any sticky situations. Wright has the game breaking abilities to control every aspect of what happens on the ice.
Skating is the next most noticeable and important quality to his game. Wright is a phenomenal skater who is very strong on his skates, making him hard to knock off the puck. He also has a high top speed and acceleration to match. His acceleration and first few quick steps are a little reminiscent of McDavid’s ability to break away from defenders on the rush.
Wright also shows great agility on his skates and has good use of his edges in tight. This allows him to work his way out of a tight area with his edges and puck skills. Overall, his straight line speed combined with his vertical agility makes him an elite skater, especially for his age.
Wright has other major qualities to his game that contribute to his success. He is a very responsible player in the defensive zone. He plays a 200 foot game that sets him apart from many forwards his age. Often when you see a young prospect who has dominated all his life, it’s rare to see an exemplary defensive game.
Wright is also a very skilled player with great puck skills. He doesn’t show off highlight reel dekes and dangles too often, yet he has the ability. But he does shows quick hands and puck protection that allow him to work between defenders while primarily using speed to maneuver around them. Although, he often prefers to make a smart pass to his teammate rather than relying on his skills.
If we are considering him coming to the OHL a year early then we need to look at how his skills will translate to the OHL level. Looking at the way he plays, the outlook is good. His hockey IQ and playmaking ability are his best qualities and would transfer very well to the OHL.
In terms of how he thinks the game, he won’t have a problem keeping up with the 20-year-old’s higher up in the league. Wright’s skating and puck skills likely won’t excel in the OHL like his smarts which he will still be able to keep up with. Although, even with these great talents, it will take adjustment time as you’d expect from an underaged player.
The one concerning area is going to be his goal scoring ability. Wright is a good scorer, but he doesn’t have elite shooting abilities. It’s going to be hard for him to go from shooting past 15-year-olds to 20-year-old’s.
I think after after a hard season’s work, his shooting will be ready for the OHL, but it’s going to take a lot of adjustment time before we see him really get into his goal scoring game. As Wright turns 15 years of age in January, I’d expect him to be ready to play in the OHL by this coming October. You have to expect he will face adversity, but if we didn’t think he could get through it, we wouldn’t be talking about him.
When talking about readiness for the OHL with an exceptional player, we have to take into consideration physical and mental readiness. Physically, Wright will be in shape for the OHL by next season. Height and weight numbers aren’t super easy to find or reliable since he plays youth hockey, but he is about 183cm (6’0”) and 76kg (168lbs).
He shouldn’t have trouble competing in the OHL at that size and will grow over the next year since he is just 14. The next area to look at his mental readiness. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say if he is mature enough to play with 20-year-old’s since he there is no information on that.
I can say that Hockey Canada will look very deeply into maturity in their interview process. It should serve as no surprise that if Wright wants to play in the OHL at 15, he is going to have to be rock solid mentally.
Taking all his skills, accomplishments and smarts into account, there is no reason that Shane Wright shouldn’t be given Hockey Canada Exceptional Status. He’s leaps and bounds ahead of his age group and even the age group above him. Wright deserves to go into the OHL with the 2003 class that he has played up with for quite a while.
We’ve seen with the past two exceptional players that they haven’t lived up to expectations. Sean Day was a 3rd rounder and Joseph Veleno went 30th overall unlike their three consecutive 1st overall predecessors. So, we have to ask if Hockey Canada is lowering their standards.
As of now, there is no reason to believe that that’s the case and maybe the opposite because of the last two guys being seen as “flops”. There is no reason to believe that Shane Wright would ever be challenged for the top spot in the 2022 NHL Draft. Well, except for Matthew Savoie who was at one point being considered for Exceptional Status himself.