DENVER – Invited by the NHL to attend Game 2 of the Grand Final between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Shane Wright, Cutter Gauthier, Matt Savoie and Conor Geekie were able to meet some of their idols and share the excitement that lives in them with three weeks of the repechage which will change their lives.
Not surprisingly, Shane Wright already sees himself in the uniform of the Canadiens, who will pick the first during the session which will begin in the evening of July 7 at the Bell Center before ending the next day.
“I had very good meetings with the staff of the Canadiens. I shared a very good meal with the members of the management during the evaluations which were held in Buffalo. They told me about their plans to make the Canadiens a winning club and I would like to play a role in this reconstruction,” the Kingston Frontenacs center repeated again yesterday.
Note that Wright, who wears number 51 with the Frontenacs, could be selected by the 51-year-old Canadian after the draft that allowed Guy Lafleur, who died on April 22, to revive the Habs in the early 1970s.
Well prepared by his management team and displaying the maturity that characterizes him, Wright ensures in the same breath that he will be delighted to head for the NHL, regardless of his selection rank and the team that decides to bet on him.
“Everything is now in the hands of the Canadian. Obviously I would like to be the first player selected in the next draft, because I believe with the skills to justify this rank of selection. But I’ll be happy to end up in New Jersey or Arizona,” Wright added of the Devils and Coyotes who will be talking second and third…unless they make a trade.
Wright was a slight favorite in a duel against Slovakian Juraj Slafkovsky, who plays with TPS Turku in Finland and who turned heads at the last Olympic Games and the World Championship. A little behind, the American Logan Cooley, a center who evolves within the development program of the USA, completes the top three.
Makar and Johnson: patience rewarded
Regardless of their draft rank, Wright, Slafkovsky, Cooley, the three other youngsters invited to Denver this weekend and the majority of those who will be claimed in a few weeks will try to reach the NHL as soon as possible.
The examples offered by defenders Cale Makar and Jack Johnson of the Avalanche show, however, that it can be very beneficial to extend one’s apprenticeship in the junior ranks, collegiate ranks or in a European league as is the case with the great Slovak.
Fourth selection of the 2017 draft, Cale Makar was awaited with open arms by the Colorado Avalanche who were trying to revive their organization after a fourth consecutive elimination from the playoffs. A seventh in eight years.
“We had a place for Cale in our defensive squad, but he decided to delay his arrival in the NHL. Personally, I have no firm position on whether or not to delay entry into the NHL. It’s case by case. But in my eyes, a young player has to be able to help your team win in order to make a quick jump into the NHL. I don’t think it’s beneficial to push him up too fast just to give him a taste of NHL hockey,” head coach Jared Bednar said Saturday morning after his team’s practice.
The decision to extend his stint in the university ranks by two years has pleased both Makar and the Avalanche. Buoyed by a return to his Minutemen teammates at the University of Massachusetts and two additional seasons with them, Makar literally took the NHL by storm when he joined the Avalanche on the eve of the playoffs in the spring of 2019 Displaying the ease and above all the confidence of a veteran, Makar scored one goal and had six points in the ten games played in the playoffs.
The following season, he had 50 points (12 goals) in 57 games and was awarded the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year.
Three victories away from a first Stanley Cup, in the running for the Conn-Smythe Trophy as the team’s most valuable player in the playoffs, runner-up – along with Victor Hedman of the Lightning and Roman Josi of the Predators – in the race for the Norris Trophy, Cale Makar is now considered one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He completes, to the right of his working partner Devon Toews, the best back duo on the circuit.
I see also invites you to read a recent column devoted to the two star defensemen of the Avalanche.
A grand finale and a diploma as a bonus
Like Cale Makar, who shaves all the players of his vintage who arrived in the NHL before him, Jack Johnson also delayed his arrival in the NHL. He turned his back on the Los Angeles Kings who had drafted him third in the 2005 vintage, just behind Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh) and Bobby Ryan (Anaheim), two places ahead of Carey Price selected by the Canadian.
In a press conference on Saturday morning, Jack Johnson indicated that the decision to remain in the university ranks had been very easy to make.
“My dream as a young hockey player was to defend the colors of the University of Michigan. After a season with the Wolverines, I couldn’t see myself giving up that childhood dream so quickly, especially since I didn’t feel ready to evolve in the NHL,” Johnson candidly admitted.
So it was in 2007-08, after two more years that helped him better prepare for NHL hockey, that Johnson joined the Kings.
Now 35, Johnson completes the 15e season in a tumultuous career during which he had to declare bankruptcy in 2014 after his parents incurred debts of more than $15 million of the $18 million earned by the defender so far. After his debut with the Kings in Los Angeles, and stops in Columbus, Pittsburgh and New York with the Rangers, he finally tasted the pleasures of a presence in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Avalanche which brought him to the Colorado this year.
“It’s as sensational as I imagined,” he proudly testified Saturday morning.
In addition to seeing his patience displayed before entering the NHL and the one that helped him through the trials that marked his career finally being rewarded on the ice, Jack Johnson also showed great patience to finally obtain his university degree.
“It took me 18 years and after 18 years of college you’re normally a doctor. But I did it,” said the defender, who took distance learning after playoff exclusions or early eliminations and also taking advantage of COVID-related breaks.
“It took me a long time to reach my goal, but I am now a graduate of the best public university in the United States,” which Johnson trumpeted with pride even more evident than that associated with his appearance in the Grand Finals. .
“When I made the jump to the NHL, I set myself the goal of finishing my studies. I also made a promise to Red Berenson – he spent the first five years of his 17-season NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens – my coach with the Wolverines, that I would one day graduate. He’s the first person I called when I got him,” concluded Johnson, who worked hard, especially with his statistical math classes, to get a general studies degree.
Questioned by journalists on the possibility that he could benefit from an additional year in the junior ranks like what Cale Makar and Jack Johnson are doing, Shane Wright remained very neutral. “We will have to see the circumstances in which I will find myself once drafted. It is often said that defenders need more time to develop than forwards. We’ll see,” said the hopeful who could end up in Montreal next year.