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Tom Wilson Opens Up About Growth With Capitals, Twitter Trends & Career Year

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson

ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson is used to the spotlight. He is aware of the critics, the fans that love him, the fans that hate him and how he has become one of the most recognized names in hockey. Despite the pressure, the 28-year-old is cool and collected after a long skate at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.

His eyes are still fixed on the rink, where he watches his teammates wrap up some extra work, as he reflects on his growth and transition into a leadership role as the regular season — which has marked a career year for No. 43 — starts to wind down.

“I try not to focus on kind of all the outside noise. What really matters to me is the guys in that room and the organization,” Wilson notes.

As time has gone by, Wilson started to find his identity on and off the ice. While he still embraces the physical side of his play, he has become a leader who can log top-line minutes, score goals and come in clutch with versatile play at both ends of the ice.

“Over the last handful of years, I’ve tried to transition my game to be able to kind of help the team out in whatever way I can and develop my offense and continue to improve my game that way,” Wilson explained.

At the end of 2020-21, Wilson again found himself at the center of controversy after punching Pavel Buchnevich and throwing Artemi Panarin off his back and onto the ice in New York back in May. Looking back, Wilson admits that he didn’t linger on that moment. He also didn’t let it change his mindset or affect his offseason.

Instead, he moved on and trained as he usually would, with the objective of putting up numbers and taking on more responsibility with the Capitals this season. And, when he came into the season, he was no longer focused on the Rangers or the incident. He didn’t want a big fight or controversy as Washington opened the season against New York. He wanted to win.

“I don’t think the last two or three years, I’ve had much of a different mentality,” Wilson explained. “My game’s kind of changed over the years and more responsibility kind of every year. I think in this league, you have to be improving every offseason. You have to be improving, you have to be taking on more responsibility because there’s so many great players that you can’t get complacent, you can’t get comfortable. You just got to keep demanding the best from yourself and pushing yourself forward. And that’s something I’ve tried to do every day since I’ve been in the league.”

Capitals forward Tom Wilson wants to move on after the Rangers incident.

(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

And, with just nine games left in the regular season and the playoffs approaching, Wilson has made notable strides as a top-6 forward and alternate captain. The 28-year-old has reached single-season highs in goals (23), assists (28) and points (51) through 69 appearances for the Capitals. He has also remained disciplined with a career-low 87 PIM but has still kept that physicality going with 211 hits. Despite dropping the gloves on a few occasions, Wilson has mostly stayed out of the spotlight, picking and choosing his battles and avoiding controversy.

“Things have fallen for him a little bit more in seasons past. I think the big with him, too, is he’s always showing up in the big moments and big games, big bright lights,” defenseman John Carlson said of No. 43. That’s what you want out of your leaders, and certainly, he can do a whole lot of things. His offensive game is tough to defend all the time, and he does a good job all over the ice.

“He means so much to our team that he plays on the penalty kill, plays on the power play, plays at the end of games, down and up. He plays a lot of minutes for us. There’s very few times where I would ever say that we want him in the penalty box for five minutes. I think that’s some of his growth too within himself, I’m sure he always wants to answer the bell. That’s just kind of who he is. But he means a heck of a lot more in other areas.”

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Going back a few years ago, Wilson could have easily been pulled into a fight or focused too much on the physical aspect of his game. However, this year, when it comes to his play and reputation, Wilson has been transparent and eager to incorporate more versatility into his game, while striking a balance between the “tough guy” persona and skill layer.

“Everybody knows I’ll try and have their back and do everything I can to help the team win. So that’s kind of always been my focus. Every game is very different. It can be a complete skill game with no hitting or it can be a game where there’s tons of hitting and fights and all that,” Wilson explained. “In each individual game, I just try and adapt and be as versatile as I can to just get those two points and help push the team in the right direction. So it’s not an individual mindset or anything that I really focus on too much. It’s just falling back on my experience and trying to stay versatile and just continue to contribute.”

His performance this season has not only caught the attention of the organization and the fanbase but the league as a whole. Wilson was on the shortlist for the Canadian Olympic Team, and he also earned an invite to the 2022 NHL All-Star Game, where he recorded the fastest goal in ASG history. Still, despite the accolades and career-highs, No. 43 doesn’t pay too much attention to his personal feats.

“It’s been a really fun year. Vegas was an awesome weekend, I was super lucky and privileged to be able to go there and enjoy the game of hockey on the biggest stage and just have a lot of fun with it. And then come back and just try and use that confidence to keep my game going,” Wilson said. “It’s always nice. You know, that being said, the year’s not over. We got to keep going and be ready for playoffs because individual stats don’t really matter.”

Looking back at his time in Washington as a whole, the Capitals’ 2013 first-rounder said that he wouldn’t change a thing with regard to his play or development after nine seasons up in the NHL. But even though he’s been in the league for a bit, he is still adapting and finding his overall identity.

“My whole career, I’ve been super fortunate. I mean, playing one game in the NHL is a dream come true,” Wilson said. “And then I think you know, if you keep pushing yourself, you never know what you can accomplish. And obviously, you need some fortunate bounces along the way. I’ve always just tried to work as hard as I can every game and kind of never take a shift off, and you push yourself and it’s always fun when you get rewarded and fun when things are going the right way. It’s the best job in the world. Super privileged to come to the rink every day and I just try to enjoy it.

“Guys always talk about how fast it goes by, and I’m already kind of staring down year 10. It’s been an absolute blast. So I just try to keep improving, never take anything for granted, and I don’t think I would change anything. I wouldn’t say anything to my younger self. I’d just kind of let him find his way and tell him to keep working hard, and things will work out,” Wilson added.

RELATED: Wilson Hits 50-Point Mark For First Time In Capitals Career

Still, Wilson admits that there have been challenges along the way. His physical style of play and on-ice persona, as well as his reputation and questionable plays from the past, have thrown him into the spotlight. When he makes a play, or even if another team is playing, “Tom Wilson” will start trending on Twitter. He has seen his name there and has heard the support and backlash. But for Wilson, it’s just part of the job, and one that’s easy to look past.

“There’s times where you kind of feel like everyone’s all over you. But I would never say there’s a hard or a bad day in the NHL. When I look back on my career, just spending every day with a bunch of great teammates and a great organization and being fortunate enough to play in D.C. with such a great fanbase,” Wilson said. “There’s times where there’s ups and downs. It’s still a really great job.

“We’re still really extremely lucky to be able to be pro athletes and play hockey for a living. So I just try and have fun with it. It is a game and emotions and tensions and stuff get high sometimes but at the end of the day, it’s an entertainment business and stuff will happen. I’m just lucky to have a great group of guys that have my back and just keep having fun with it because it is a dream come true. Every day is a good day.”

Capitals forward Tom Wilson

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

That being said, Wilson doesn’t spend too much time on social media, and rarely goes on Twitter anymore. Instead, he’ll kill time on the road and take the stress off with Vikings or Survivor. For Wilson, that energy that would be put into scrolling online goes into being a leader for the Capitals and staying close with his teammates, family and friends.

“Social media is a thing¬†where it’s tough because it’s a great avenue for good. A lot of good can come from it for athletes. But it’s a great avenue for bad as well, and it can be a really dark place for athletes… In my life, I try and balance everything. You don’t have to spend every day looking at everything everyone says.¬†There’s a lot of outside noise nowadays. I mean, not even in the game of hockey, I just think in life. It’s pretty big picture with social media. I just try and focus on the people you care about. Your inner circle, the team that you play with. Those are the opinions that really matter to you. Not all the rest,” Wilson said, smiling.

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