Since he entered the NHL, Capitals right wing Tom Wilson has become one of the most polarizing players in the game, primarily due to the enforcer-type reputation he’s developed in his first three seasons. And while the Caps envision him as the next Joel Ward, they don’t seem to realize that they are preventing him from reaching that goal
When he was drafted with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he drew comparisons to rugged NHL forward Milan Lucic. After being heavily underutilized in his first three seasons, the Caps have given him an extended role, but his playing time has barely increased from last season, when he played a career-high 12:55 minutes.
In today’s game against the New Jersey Devils, Wilson delivered a check on Devils defenseman John Moore that ended up sending the blueliner to the hospital. According to CSN MidAtlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir, Moore is set to be released from the hospital later this evening, per Devils Head Coach John Hynes.
#Devils Dman John Moore will be released from the hospital this afternoon, according to Coach John Hynes (via the team).
— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) December 31, 2016
It’s clear looking at the replay that Wilson was not intentionally trying to injure. The referees did not give Wilson a penalty on the play, and rightfully so, as these kinds of hits are a natural part of hockey.Wilson should be able to judge when a hit could be a motivation for his team or result in a penalty. Unfortunately, that’s the situation Wilson often finds himself in as a result of his given role with the team.
Controversial hits are something the 23-year old has faced in his short NHL career. In his first three seasons alone, he has been heavily criticized and loathed by opposing fan bases. These include his hit on then-New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn, and Colorado Avalamche defenseman Nikita Zadorov. It has earned him a reputation as a dirty player, despite having never been suspended, only fined, by the NHL. However, Wilson is NOT a dirty player, simply one that plays with an edge. If the Caps want Wilson to be the “next” Joel Ward, they must give him more playing time and chances to improve offensively.
When Wilson signed a two-year, $4 million contract this past summer, the hope was that he could become the net-front presence the Caps had been missing since losing Ward in free agency in 2015. So far this season, Wilson has only two goals, one assist, and three points in 35 games played. Of his two goals, one was an empty-net tally. He is on pace for a meager five goals, two assists, and seven points in 82 games. His cap hit of $2 million is excessive for a player with his production and role.However, his role has increased, but nowhere near where it should be to allow him to flourish offensively. If the Caps lose fellow right wingers T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams in free agency next season, Wilson could get a legitimate chance to establish himself offensively.
While his role and ice time have increased – he is one of the team’s best and most trusted penalty killers and is averaging a second career-best 12:49 of ice time (down only slightly from last season’s aforementioned average of 12:55 – it’s clear that Wilson is not capable of reaching the expectations that came with being a first-round pick with the amount of playing time he is getting. At this point, fans may have to admit that while he may never be the Top-Six forward the Caps imagined they were getting, he could still very well be an effective third-line winger, who, if given ample playing time, could excel offensively. LAst season’s offensive totals of seven goals, 16 assists, and 23 points are an indication of that. Containing his composure physicality level will be key in preventing him from being unable to reach the expectations set forth by the Caps management.
By Michael Fleetwood