While it may seem hard to believe, the 2018-19 NHL season will begin in just several more weeks. With training camp set to begin sometime in September, players will begin making their way back to their teams’ respective cities to prep for the upcoming season. For the Capitals, they will be entering the season as the defending Stanley Cup champions, a position that brings with it a number of unknowns. The majority of the team’s core will be returning, including right wing Tom Wilson. With a career season in the books, the ink dry on a new six-year contract, and some offseason conditioning, the former first-round pick looks set to build on his 2017-18 campaign.
For the first time in his five-season NHL career, Wilson was given the opportunity to establish himself as a true first-line right wing, a role the Caps had in mind when they selected him with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. It took four seasons, but the 24-year old Toronto native finally broke through in the team’s Cup-winning season, reaching double digits in the goal department (14) and 20 assists for the first time in his career (21) for a career-high of 35 points in 78 games played, all while averaging a career-high 15:59 of ice time a night for former Head Coach Barry Trotz. While Trotz has since departed the team, former Associate Coach Todd Reirden has taken the reigns behind the bench and barring a dramatic turn of decision-making, Wilson should see the same role he did last season playing alongside captain Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
However, Wilson now has a glistening new six-year, $31 million contract that carries with it a $5.17 million cap hit, one that drew criticism from some after just one solid season from the rigged winger. So what should fans (and the team) expect from Wilson this season? Assuming Reirden doesn’t change things too drastically, Wilson should see time as the top-line right wing alongside the aforementioned Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, and should meet or exceed the ice time he saw last season. With longtime penalty kill stalwart Jay Beagle gone, Wilson will likely be asked to play an even larger role on the penalty kill, a situation he has excelled at over the last few seasons. Assuming he avoids supplementary discipline (something he dealt with last season), he should be able to reach the 20-goal, 40-point plateaus for the first time in his career this season; his shooting percentage of 1.58 last season was by far his best in a single season, and his 0.18 goals and 0.27 assists per game were better than his career averages in that category.
If Wilson’s performance in the postseason en route to the team’s Stanley Cup championship (15 points in 21 games played) were any indication, he should pick up right where he left off last season. Still just 24 and not yet in the prime of his career, Wilson has the chance to grow his game to another offensive height. If he can meet or exceed his totals from last year, he could be one of the Caps’ most important pieces come playoff time.
By Michael Fleetwood