Through his first three seasons in the NHL, Capitals right winger Tom Wilson was known for his hard-hitting, physical style of play, one that earned him an unfair reputation around the league. After a slow start to the season, Wilson’s play has been one of the biggest reasons in the Capitals’ success.
After signing him to a two-year, $4 million contract last summer, the Capitals stated that they wanted the former first-round pick to become the next coming of former Capital Joel Ward, a task that some questioned would ever happen. And while his offensive numbers aren’t exactly identical of Ward’s four seasons in Washington, the overall improvement in Wilson’s game has been noticeable.
Through his first three seasons, Wilson developed the aforementioned reputation of being a dirty player, something that was not received well by fans of the rugged winger. In his junior career, Wilson was known for more than just his physicality. He drew comparisons to established NHLer Milan Lucic with the way he played. When the Caps brought him to Washington, the lack of playing time had a negative effect on the promising winger’s development.
So far this season, Wilson has taken another step towards reinventing himself as a player. While he did put up a career-high seven goals and 23 points last season, he hasn’t been as productive this season, but is on pace for six goals, 13 assists, and 19 points. He has, however, benefitted the Caps defensively. The Caps’ goaltenders have a save percentage of .945 when Wilson is on the ice. While his increasing involvement in the offense is promising, his discipline this season has been the true reason behind his evolution. Through 59 games played, Wilson is only averaging a career-low 1.10 penalty minutes a game, well down from his career average of 1.90 and career-high of 2.57. In the past, Wilson’s lack of composure and willingness to drop the gloves often put him in the penalty box and the Caps shorthanded, but by staying out of the sin bin, he has transformed himself into a valuable penalty killer and has been able to put himself in better offensive situations.
Almost one year into the two-year, $4 million contract he signed last summer as a restricted free agent, Wilson is proving that, while it may take time, he can be more than just a tough guy for the Caps. The goal isn’t to take away his physicality, but to integrate it into his newfound style of play. If he can continue to improve in all aspects of his game, he could still become the player (or close to it) the Caps envisioned him to be when they selected him 16th overall in 2012.
By Michael Fleetwood