The Washington Capitals have never been Tom Wilson’s team.
As a 19-year-old, Wilson’s debut registered as a mere blip on the radar as Alex Ovechkin continued to cement his place as one of hockey’s best. While Wilson has developed into a key piece of the Capitals’ core over his 10-year career, he’s rarely moved from the backseat.
But the sunset of the 37-year-old Ovechkin’s career is approaching. And after Wilson inked a seven-year, $45.5 million extension Friday, it’s increasingly likely that not only will he end his career in Washington, but he’ll have his chance to be the face of the only NHL team he’s ever known.
“When I go into that rink, it means a lot to me,” Wilson said Monday. “I want to win, I want to play the right way. I couldn’t imagine having to actually go ever and move and play somewhere else. As long as I do my job and keep improving and helping the team do well, it gives me the opportunity to only have to play in one place my whole career, and that’s pretty special to me.”
A first-round draft pick of the Capitals in 2012, Wilson made his NHL debut at 19-years old. The extension, which takes effect starting in 2024-25, will keep him in Washington until he’s 37.
During his rookie year, Wilson’s limited play came with his limited skill. His menacing size made him an intimidating presence in the team’s enforcer role, but his all-around abilities began to further develop. During the Capitals’ 2017-18 Stanley Cup season, Wilson erupted with a then-career-high 35 points, as well as the first double-digit goal-scoring season of his career.
Wilson’s making just as many headlines off the ice. Long lauded for his leadership traits in the locker room, Wilson was the team’s most recent nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy — awarded to the player with the most notable leadership and community contributions.
“The guys on the team create a culture every year — he’s been a big part of ours coming up to this point and he’ll be a big part going forward,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think he’s learned a lot over the years. He’s won a cup, he got to play as a young guy with some solid veteran guys ahead of him, [and] now he’s become that guy.
“We’re looking for him to help when guys come in, young guys come in, how to be a professional, how to handle yourself off the ice, how to handle yourself in the community and how to play the game the right way, how to practice the right way. I think he’s had a great education through his first 10 years, and he’ll continue to provide us that going forward, which is I think a huge part of what we accomplished here with this contract.”
In part, Wilson’s ascendancy can be attributed to Ovechkin, who has guided him up to this point in his pro hockey career.
“He’s been amazing to me,” Wilson said. “An amazing leader, he’s taken me under his wing. He’s had lots of conversations about maybe four or five years down the road or whenever it is about what it means to be a leader, and he’s been fairly vocal with me the last little while about that. It just speaks to his character and how much he cares about his teammates and I just try to soak it all in.”