When the Capitals drafted 21-year old right wing Tom Wilson with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, they were drafting a player who had been compared to Milan Lucic while playing in the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Plymouth Whalers.
In his best season in Plymouth (2012-13), Wilson scored 23 goals and added 35 assists for a total of 58 points in 48 games, in comparison to Lucic’s 27 points (who played in 46 of the 48-game lockout-shortened season). Wilson also had 104 penalty minutes (PIM) to Lucic’s 75.
Wilson’s development was hampered from the moment he debuted for the Capitals. While he has proven to be a valuable asset to the Capitals, Wilson’s offensive production has not matched his draft pedigree, and that is due to the way his playing time was handled. Then-head coach Adam Oates played Wilson an average of 7:56 minutes per game in his rookie season of 2013-14. Playing on the fourth-line, Wilson managed just three goals, seven assists, and ten points in 82 games. In current head coach Barry Trotz’ first year, Wilson scored a career-high four goals and 13 assists for 17 points in an injury-shortened 67-game season while averaging three minutes more of playing time. This season, Wilson has averaged 12:38 of ice time and has two goals and 11 assists in 38 games; those numbers put him on a four-goal, 24-assist pace, giving him a career-high 28 points. After struggling to find his offensive game, Wilson is showing signs he’s more than a fighter and big-hitter.
Wilson has dished out 405 hits in just 187 career games and has amassed 419 PIM. Several of his hits have been controversial, but all of them have been clean. His most controversial is likely his hit on Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn in 2013. He has never received fines or suspensions in his three-year NHL career. Yet, teams seem to believe he is a dirty player, according to a story published by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Since that story, Wilson has received an absurd amount of what Caps fans have called “reputation calls”. Wilson himself said it was hard to play his game. The fact that the NHL rescinded all of them speaks more to the judgement of the referees than anything else.
Wilson is slowly but surely developing into the physical, power forward they believed he could be. If he can continue to get regular playing time, Wilson may even be able to top his on-pace totals. He has also been entrusted with killing penalties, something that has enabled him to gain experience and hopefully, evolve into one of the team’s future fixtures.
By Michael Fleetwood