Coming into the 2021-22 campaign, Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was eager to move on from the past, to put his reputation behind him and ultimately change his image.
Starting with the season opener against the New York Rangers, the 28-year-old wasn’t eager to drop the gloves or partake in any of the bad blood that may have spilled over from May of last season. He also stayed away from the tension on social media, as well as the resulting front-office fallout after that night at MSG. Instead, his mind was elsewhere and has been elsewhere since the start of training camp. It’s something that the Capitals wanted to see from Wilson this year.
“Some extra weight might be thrown on Tom’s shoulders [this season]… we ask him to do a lot,” T.J. Oshie, who’s now week-to-week, said back in September. “He plays penalty kill, he plays power play, he plays 6-on-5, 5-on-6. He’s our protector. He’s our leader and at the same time, he’s one of our young guys that drives the bus full of energy.”
“I want to score goals, I want to be a leader. I want to take on more responsibility and get our team to the playoffs and hopefully more,” Wilson added in regard to his focus for this year.
So far, he has not disappointed. The 6-4, 220-pound winger has 11 points through 14 games so far this season and three goals and five points in his last games after a bit of a slow start in the goal-scoring department. Even at one point to start the campaign, he was leading the NHL in assists.
“Yeah I mean sometimes they’re going in sometimes they aren’t. It’s a tough league to score in, so you gotta take ’em when they come and just keep working hard,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to keep working and having fun at the rink. It’s a great job but it is nice when it goes in for you.”
Stats aside, Wilson has been a huge asset on the top line alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin, a line that consists of the team’s top-3 producers. In his role, Wilson has been using his size and speed to generate scoring chances and draw penalties (he leads Washington with seven drawn calls this season).
“‘O has been playing well, Kuzy’s been playing really well, and if I can complement them, I’m going to try and keep doing that,” Wilson said.
At the other end of the ice, he’s been a solid defensive forward and penalty killer for the Capitals. He’s sacrificing the body, engaging in puck battles and still bringing physicality to the table — just more responsibly. He has recorded 12 blocks (highest among forwards) and 31 hits so far this year.
“He’s the muscle and the engine on the car,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of No. 43. “He goes into the corners, he pulls away around the net. You’ll often find him in front of the net, battling for position, trying to make it, trying to give those guys a little bit more freedom away from the puck that people are going at the net. There’s more than one zone for those two players to move around. He brings a lot to that line with regard to his physicality and [his] assets.”
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Laviolette has also seen Wilson continuing to evolve into a responsible leader and take on a bigger role for Washington not just on the ice, but in the locker room as well. His optimism and vocal leadership earned him the “A” with T.J. Oshie drawing out of the lineup.
“I think he’s continuing on. For me last year he was a power-play guy, he was a kind of role guy. He’s somebody that I trust at the end of the game. Either way we got to win it or we’re trying to hold on to win it,” Laviolette noted. “I think he handles all of that. I think his leadership in the room continues to grow. And so all of that was there and I think it’s continued on this year.”
Sophomore netminder Vitek Vanecek added that Wilson has also been helpful in his progression and mentality at the NHL level.
“He’s really good guy. He’s trying to help me, too,” Vanecek said. “You know it’s my second year. I will say this is first year, like, full season. Last season was just 56 games. So he just trying to help me after tough games and good games, you know, he just came and talk to me. It’s really nice.”
Overall, Wilson is ready to continue playing wearing several different hats for the Capitals, something that’s vital right now. He needs to keep the momentum going with Backstrom, Oshie, Anthony Mantha and now Nic Dowd, sidelined for a bit. That leaves several voids to fill on the PP and PK. Wilson, however, is ready to do it all.
“It’s a lot of fun playing with these guys,” Wilson said. “Whatever I can do to compete and play my game. Most important thing right now is team wins. We have some adversity going, but we are rallying together and trying to keep collecting the Ws.”