Jared Wright could not have pictured a grander stage to tally his first collegiate goal. The LA Kings’ sixth-round pick in this year’s draft broke a 2-2 tie in the third period on Friday, skating hard toward the net to bury home a rebound.
The marker would be the game-winner in Denver’s pivotal victory against rival University of North Dakota.
“It felt awesome; I was kind of shell-shocked,” Wright said of his first goal. “It barely crossed the line, but it was just a really good play by my teammates just getting (the puck) to the net, and I just tried to get to the hard areas, and luckily, it crossed the line.”
Certainly, any incoming freshman would be thrilled to score their first goal against their team’s biggest rival. Wright added two more goals on Saturday night to give Denver their first sweep in Grand Forks in over a decade.
North Dakota grabbed the early momentum, needing just seven seconds to open the scoring on Saturday. The Pioneers showed remarkable resiliency, scoring five out of the next six goals. Few teams can walk into that environment and respond to that kind of adversity.
“That was huge for our group. It’s such a hard environment to play in; the atmosphere is crazy. When they score goals, they build a lot of momentum in that building,” Wright said of North Dakota. “We kind of weathered the storm when they scored, and I think it just showed how resilient our group is and how special our group is, and I think we got the group to win a National Championship. I think it kind of showed this weekend what we’re capable of.”
With three goals and an assist on the weekend, Wright earned NCHC Forward of the Week honors. However, it wasn’t necessarily a clear path to get there.
The freshman forward was held pointless through the first ten games of the season. Any player entering a squad fresh off winning their ninth National Championship in school history could understandably be frustrated with not making the scoresheet.
However, the 19-year-old showed tremendous poise and maturity, taking it one game at a time while focusing on the team aspect rather than individual accolades.
“I just tried to play my game and not try to worry too much about points,” he said. […] “In terms of the first ten games not having a point, I thought that I handled it pretty well, and I just tried to focus on getting better every day and working hard. I think that later the results will come.”
If this past weekend was any indication, the points could soon come in bunches.
Speed was never an issue for the Burnsville, Minnesota native. Wright can flat-out fly. And at 6-foot-3, 183 pounds, he has good size that scouts can fall in love with. Despite going undrafted in his age-18 season, Wright caught the attention of the LA Kings with 34 points in 59 games in the USHL last season.
“I had a couple of zoom calls with them, and I thought the calls went really well. I thought that they valued me a lot. To be honest, going into draft day, I didn’t really know if I was going to be drafted, but I was really excited to be picked by a historic franchise like them,” he said of the draft process.
Los Angeles has found late-round gems in recent draft classes, and Wright has all the tools to fit into that mold.
After being drafted, the young forward attended the team’s annual Development Camp. There, Wright got the opportunity to showcase his talents while working with the player development staff.
He also got an up-close look at the Kings’ blue-chip prospects.
“It’s really been a supportive group,” Wright said of the organization. “In terms of development camp, it was awesome just speaking with those guys and obviously practicing with guys like Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev. You really pick up the little details, and it kind of shows why they’re in the NHL, just of all the skill they have and the little details they have in their game.”
Denver’s schedule offers the team their first bye of the season this weekend. For a young player like Wright, this point in the season can provide a chance to reflect on the season thus far.
That said, the freshman forward has several areas of his game he’s focused on developing the rest of the way.
“For sure my shot and stick handling.” Wright said definitively. “I think I use my speed a lot, but sometimes my feet move faster than my hands, or sometimes I lose the puck a lot. That’s just something I’ve been working on, just trying to make sure I’m holding the puck and making plays and not overskating plays or over backchecking – just trying to play like a smarter game and just overall ability on the ice.”
The Denver Pioneers will resume play on Friday, November 25, at home against Omaha.
(Main photo credit: Denver Hockey)