Maybe someday soon.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s the dream,” he said. “That’s what you work towards. That’s what you strive for. That’s the end goal, is to get to the Stanley Cup Final and win the Stanley Cup. To be able to be here and to see these guys living out my dream, living out what I’ve worked for my entire life, is pretty special.”
The NHL has been bringing top prospects to the Cup Final for 30 years for just this reason: to see the end goal, to experience it up close ahead of the NHL Draft. But this was the first time since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wright, a center from Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League, is the No. 1 North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings. The Montreal Canadiens have the No. 1 pick and host the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Center on July 7-8.
The 18-year-old was joined by three of the other top five North American skaters: Cutter Gauthier (No. 3), a forward from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, along with Matthew Savoie (No. 4) and Conor Geekie (No. 5), each a center from Winnipeg of the Western Hockey League.
One thing stood out.
“It’s fast,” Wright said. “It’s super fast. Everything’s super crisp. No one’s missing a pass, no one’s missing the tape and everything’s at a high speed. It’s fun to watch those guys, fun to be up close and watch them in practice rather than kind of just watching them on TV in games.”
Top prospects who visit the Cup Final often go on to play in the Cup Final.
Six members of the Avalanche did this: defenseman Jack Johnson, the No. 3 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft; defenseman Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick in 2006; forward Gabriel Landeskog, the No. 2 pick in 2011; defenseman Ryan Murray, the No. 2 pick in 2012; center Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 pick in 2013; and defenseman Bowen Byramthe No. 4 pick in 2019.
So did three members of the Tampa Bay Lightning: center Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in 2008; defenseman Zach Bogosyan, the No. 3 pick in 2008; and defenseman Victor Hedmanthe No. 2 pick in 2009.
For most of them, it took many years. For Byram, it took a few.
“I remember just being amazed with how fast the hockey was,” Byram said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that.’ But now that I’m here, it’s crazy thinking back. It feels like forever ago, but it was really just a short two or three years. It’s definitely surreal. To be back here now, playing in a Cup Final, it’s pretty hard to believe, to be honest.”
Wright had never been to a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone the Cup Final. The prospects visited the Avalanche locker room and met some players. (The Lightning didn’t skate, so the prospects were scheduled to go to their locker room later.)
“It’s almost like a little bit what I do now, but it’s just kind of ramped up,” Wright said. “Everything’s more intense. Everything faster paced. Everything’s a little more professional, I think, just because this is the Stanley Cup Final. This is the most important series, the most important games, of the entire year.
“It’s just cool to watch. It’s cool to see and just to be here on game day, see what the guys do, see what their routines are and see what they go through.”
Wright seemed happy and relaxed. The hardest part of the draft prep is over. This is the fun part.
“For sure,” he said. “I think being here and having this experience, you want to enjoy this. You want to take all this in. You want to make sure that you soak it all in, you enjoy every second of this, because it doesn’t happen very often you get flown out to watch a Stanley Cup Final game, you get to see some players and see the morning skates and all that.”
The prospects will have the full draft experience too, after two years of virtual drafts due to the pandemic. And with the Canadians selecting first in their home building in one of the most passionate hockey markets on the planet?
“I’m excited for it,” Wright said. “I mean, it was a little bit of nerves, a little bit of anxiousness, but I think more so excitement. So looking forward to it. Looking forward to overall going through the draft process, going through that experience. I think just being there, having the feel of getting drafted, I think is just what I’m most excited for.”
Well, until he plays in the NHL, of course. Even after marveling at the speed of a morning skate in the Cup Final, Wright feels he’ll be able to play in the NHL right away.
“I do,” he said. “I honestly do. I think that from watching that, it’s definitely fast-paced. I’ll definitely have to adjust to that and adjust to the speed and all that, but I think that if I can work this offseason, in [development] camp and training camp, I can step in and be ready.”
NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report
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