By Bob Trask – If we make the assumption that the Canadiens will draft Shane Wright with the first overall pick, how could the center ice position with Montreal unfold? There are really only two possibilities; Wright makes the Canadiens or he returns for another year of junior. Let’s take a look at each.
Wright with the Canadiens
Despite all the accolades he has gathered, I still believe Wright could be a long shot to make the team. The primary reason I have taken this view is that there is little in the way of experienced centers for the Canadiens to fall back on if Wright struggles. But let’s assume it does happen.
The ideal spot for him to begin his career may be the 3rd line where the matchups may not be as stiff but the ice time is still sufficient. That could mean Christian Dvorak would probably begin the year on the 2nd line with Evans and Poehling battling for the 4th line center position – with one of them being relegated to the wing.
It might not be a bad option because it would give the Canadiens 5 players capable of playing center. As the season progressed, general manager Kent Hughes could assess the situation and decide what his options were closer to the trade deadline. This option could have a domino effect that would impact the wingers if Evans and Poehling flip-flopped between center and wing during the season.
Wright in the OHL
How many times have the Canadiens been accused of rushing their prospects into the league without sufficient development time? Sending Wright back to junior where he can continue his development and hopefully dominate might be the preferred approach.
There is no hurry for Wright to get into the NHL particularly if it hinders his development. Realistically the Canadiens are a long shot to make the playoffs and Hughes may prefer the methodical, patient approach. The organization certainly doesn’t need another Kotkaniemi or Galchenyuk situation on their hands.
The Canadiens would be left with their four returning centers along with anyone acquired over the summer and/or depth players like Laurent Dauphin. It’s not the lineup of a Cup contender but that’s unlikely to be the goal for next season anyway.
While Wright would be expected to develop and dominate in junior along, the Canadiens could also monitor the development Riley Kidney and Oliver Kapanen. If Kingston wasn’t in Memorial Cup contention he would likely be traded to a top team and seems to be a shoo-in for the World Junior team – all of this providing additional valuable experience.
And if the season goes south for the Canadiens without Wrigt, they could be in line for another very good draft pick in 2023.
The most likely option may be a combination of the first two, with Wright starting the season in Montreal. If he stands out, he would stay with the team but if he shows that he is just okay, the Canadiens could give him 8 or 9 games and then return him to the OHL.
Of course all of this could be moot if the Canadiens surprise and pass on Wright. And that debate among Habs fans still rages on social media.