The numbers from Tom Wilson’s first two seasons in Washington pretty much explain his role.
Penalty minutes: 323
While Wilson’s been effective as the energy-slash-enforcer guy, it’s probably not the role most imagined when the Caps made him the 16th overall pick in 2012. Taken ahead of the likes of Tomas Hertl and Teuvo Teravainen, the big-bodied Wilson — 6-foot-4, 210 pounds — should be able to do more.
Just ask his head coach.
“Willie is one of my favorites,” Barry Trotz told the Washington Post this offseason. “I think he’s got a great upside, but at the same time I don’t see him as a fourth line winger for the Washington Capitals.
“To me, he’s better than that.”
Wilson has appeared in plenty of games — only four players from his draft class have been in more — but hasn’t really played all that much, averaging 7:56 per game in his rookie year, then 10:56 as a sophomore, all of it in a predominantly fourth-line role. Part of that is age, having just turned 21 in March, and part of that stems from ex-head coach Adam Oates, who thrust Wilson into the muscle role to compensate for what he saw as a lack of team toughness.
Trotz, though, sees something more.
He gave Wilson top-line minutes last year alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and while the promotion was brief, it provided insight into what Trotz thinks of Wilson’s potential — a big-bodied power forward that can physically punish opponents and produce offensively.
“My goal will be pretty simple with Tom,” Trotz said, per CSN Washington. “Tom needs to elevate his game. We’ll talk about all those areas of where he can and how he’s going to do it and where we see him needing to get to.”
But is this the year it happens?
There is competition for top-six minutes, especially at wing. Washington’s added some veteran talent in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, meaning Wilson, a pending RFA, may not get a shot at his breakthrough until 2016-17.
Or perhaps beyond.
“We want to get Wilson more ice time next year. We need to bump him,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said. “Maybe not next year, but the year after, we have to turn him into a top-six forward.
“We just need him making more plays, doing more with the puck, contributing offensively, and I think we can get that out of him.”