The most interesting story from the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2009 training camp was 19 year old James Wright. Drafted in the fourth round (117th overall) in the 2008 NHL entry draft, Wright came out of nowhere and beat out the likes veterans such as Ryan Craig, Blair Jones, Adam Hall or Paul Szczechura for a roster spot.
For more than half the season, Wright stuck with the club, bouncing around on the lower lines. His determination and instincts didn't go un-noticed or unappreciated by Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet, as Wright found himself at times playing on scoring lines with the likes of team captain Vincent Lecavalier and assistant captain Martin St. Louis.
It's been almost a month now since James was sent back to his junior club, the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. While the Bolts have run hot-and-cold since his re-assignment, James himself has blossomed in his nine games since re-joining the Giants. As of Monday night (while the Giants game against the Seattle Thunderbirds was still in progress), Wright has 4 goals and 7 assists and is a +5.
We caught up with Wright to reflect on his time in Tampa, his outlook for the future and a handful of other things. Sorry, Raw Charge regulars, James didn't know about being nicknamed "Killer" (inspired by a pre-season incident with the Ottawa Senator's Alex Kovalev).
(James Wright's first career NHL goal, scored October 22nd, 2009, versus the San Jose Sharks)
What was your overall impression of Tampa, the area, in the time you were there?
I loved it. Everyone was extremely kind to me, it was a beautiful area that I stayed in
You were living with Steve Downie when you were with the Lightning, who comes off on ice like an intense character. What was that experience like for you?
Steve is a real nice guy...different from what you would expect from his on ice personality. I have talked to him a lot since I came back to Vancouver, he has been good to me both in Tampa Bay and since I have returned.
Back in November 2009, during a west coast road trip, we heard you and fellow rookie Victor Hedman got stuck with the tab on a team dinner. How much did everything cost, and who was guilty of running up the bill the most?
It cost too much....(with a laugh)...The blame is equally distributed.
What's the greatest learning experience you've taken from your time in the NHL?
Learning how to be a professional from the older players, and learning from their experiences.
How about the most frustrating experience you had while playing in the NHL?
It's a mens league, and everyone is strong, there are no 16 year old and 17 year olds playing in the NHL.
Did Lightning Head Coach Rick Tocchet give you any advice or other important remarks before you left?
Yes...he told me that this is a learning experience, and not to be disappointed, but to go to Vancouver and do the most with the ice time I am given.
Are you disappointed or relieved you will not have to be subjected to a shaving-cream-pie from Ryan Malone as a gift for your birthday?
It would have been fun....but a messy clean up. (laughing)
What's been - or will be - your biggest adjustment to coming back to Vancouver and the WHL?
On the ice the speed of the game and the strength of the players is very different....
Do you think you are bringing anything extra to the Giants with your return to juniors?
I am going try to be a good producer, and a leader helping us get as far as possible in the playoffs.
You're wearing your old #19 with the Giants again, which Connor Redmond had been wearing the number this season. How'd you get him to switch numbers? (There had been talk that you wouldn't be able to wear the number again)
When I first talked to [Vancouver Head Coach] Don [Hay] on the phone, he told me how he told the team I was coming back. He had good news and bad news, the bad news was Connor was going to have to switch numbers, but the good news is that I was returning. It was nice of Connor to give up 19 for me, I appreciated that.
The Vancouver Giants currently sit atop the BC Division of the WHL - what do you think your chances are of making it to the Memorial Cup this year?
I like our squad...we have lots of new faces, but we are working on coming together if everyone accepts their role we have a good shot at going deep.
What do you think the biggest challenge is facing the Giants in the remainder of the WHL season?
We aren't playing many home games right now, and won't until the last couple of games of the season , we have to be a good road team the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Knowing what it takes to play in the NHL, and having witnessed what NHL'ers do to maintain their level of on-ice performance, what do you think you should be doing differently this coming offseason in order to prepare for playing again in the NHL?
I know I have to get bigger and stronger, but I felt my preparation last summer helped me to get to the NHL, I will continue that this summer.
What do you think the most difficult part of this 10-game road trip that the Giants have during the Olympics will be?
Dealing with being on the road for that long, but it will give our team, with a lot of new players, a chance to come together.
Speaking of the Olympics -- any predictions on which countries will medal in men's ice hockey?
Canada over Russia
How much contact (by phone or computer or whatever) have you had with the guys back in Tampa since you went back to Vancouver?
I talk to Downie quite a bit on the phone. I also keep in contact with Stamkos and Hedman as well. Mostly by text.
Most young sport fans dream of appearing on a sports card. Have you picked up / do you own any of your NHL rookie cards?
No I don't, but I am going to look at getting some.