Tom Wilson is one of many fan favorites on the Washington Capitals roster, and rightfully so. In his first two NHL seasons, Wilson has established himself as a no-nonsense type of player who is willing to drop the gloves in defense of his teammates. But after being selected as the sixteenth overall draft choice of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Wilson’s career numbers don’t reflect his draft pedigree. And it is not because of anything he has done, but the way his development has been handled.
When the Caps drafted the 21-year old from the Plymouth Whalers, they envisioned him as the type of player who would create scoring chances by going to the front of the net while providing a physical edge. His playing style has been compared to Milan Lucic, one of the best power forwards in the NHL.
Wilson posted offensive numbers in Plymouth that caught the Capitals’ attention: in his final season with Plymouth, he recorded 23 goals and 58 points. But under former coach Adam Oates, Wilson saw just 7:56 minutes a night while skating on the fourth line. And he recorded just ten points (three goals, seven assists) in his rookie campaign. He became an enforcer-like player, dropping his gloves frequently and amassing 151 penalty minutes. Under current head coach Barry Trotz, Wilson saw three more minutes of ice time and was placed on the top line for a portion of the year with stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. While an injury cut his games-played to just 67 games, he did score 17 points (four goals, 13 assists). But he again saw fourth line minutes more often than not.
With the additions of right wingers Justin Williams and TJ Oshie this summer, Wilson will likely replace Joel Ward on the Caps third line (teamed with Brooks Laich and Andre Burakovsky). While Wilson still fought, he learned to pick his battles and should see his offensive numbers increase. But will Wilson ever prove he was worth the first-round pick used on him? Yes, he has seen limited action his first two seasons, but with an expanded role, Wilson should increase his production. It’s not impossible for Wilson to score around 15 goals and 30 points and in the final year of his entry-level contract, it’s now or never for Willy to prove he is more than just a fourth-liner.
By Michael Fleetwood