LBC's Top 25 Panthers Under 25: #20 James Wright
Week two of the Top 25 Under 25 rankings continues with San Antonio Rampage forward James Wright. Wright was acquired by the Panthers mid-season last year, in hopes that a change of scenery would benefit the young Saskatoon, SK native's development.
Position: C/D ▪ Shoots: Left
Height: 6-4 ▪ Weight: 196 lbs.
Born: March 24, 1990 (Age 22) in Saskatoon, SK
Draft: Tampa Bay, 4th round (117th overall), 2008
Wright was selected ninth overall by the Vancouver Giants in the 2005 WHL Bantam Draft. Before beginning his junior career, he played 41 games with the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, scoring 32 points (13G/19A). He would make his debut with the Giants that season, seeing time in two games.
In his first full season with the Giants, Wright scored 12 points (5G/7A) in 48 games, playing with former Panther Kenndal McArdle. He appeared in 14 playoff games, helping the Giants reach the WHL Championship Finals, with four points (3G/1A). Vancouver would lose to the Medicine Hat Tigers in seven games, but eventually win the 2007 Memorial Cup as the host team. Wright played in all five Memorial Cup games, scoring two goals.
In 2007-08 Wright improved his point totals with 36 points (13G/23A) in 60 games, but failed to maintain his pace in the playoffs by scoring only a goal in six postseason games with the Giants as they reached the semifinals. Wright was featured in the CHL prospects game before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth round.
Wright had a career performance in this third season, scoring 47 points (21G/26A) in 71 games. His scoring finally translated to the playoffs as as well, as Wright notched 10 points (3G/7A) in 17 games, helping the Giants reach the Conference Final.
Wright was expected to return to the Giants for a fourth and final season, but surprised many by making the Lightning roster, signing an entry level contract on September 26, 2009. After a successful training camp, Wright's NHL career began against the Atlanta Thrashers on October 3rd, playing against former line-mate Evander Kane (also making his own NHL debut). Wright scored his first NHL goal against the San Jose Sharks on October 22, playing on Tampa Bay's top line with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. The goal was a mere 30 seconds into the game, the first of five for Tampa as they won 5-2.
Wright would eventually play only 48 games with the Lightning, scoring 5 points (2G/3A) before being returned to the Giants. As a member of the Lightning, Wright had a -1.1 GVT while averaging 11:38 minutes a game and 1:57 on the penalty kill. After heading to the Giants, Wright's offense lit up as he scored 19 points (6G/13A) in the final 21 games. The offense continued into the playoffs with 16 points (7G/9A) in 16 games, as the Giants again reached their Conference Final.
Wright played one more game with the Lightning, going minus-two in 4:36 minutes against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 18th, 2010. In the AHL, Wright played in all 80 games, finishing fifth in Norfolk Admirals scoring with 47 points (16G/31A). However, he only scored one goal in six playoff games in the Admirals' series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Wright got off to a slow start with the Admirals, scoring only five points (1G/4A) in 22 games. He was traded to Florida, along with defenseman Mike Vernace, for Mike Kostka and Evan Oberg on December 2, 2011; the deal reuniting him with former junior teammates Wacey Rabbit and Michal Repik. He finished the season with 28 points (11G/27A) in 54 games with the Rampage, and later tied Bracken Kearns for third in Rampage playoff points with seven points (3G/4A) in 10 games, helping the Rampage advance to the conference semifinal for the first time in franchise history.
The Panthers believe in Wright's future in the NHL, signing him to a two-year deal, the second season of which being the one-way variety. Wright is very strong defensively, thanks to his size and awareness. He has the makings of a solid checking line forward, but his upside doesn't reach anywhere beyond bottom-six forward.