In one way or another, Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson has been on the radar this season — but for different reasons than the average fan may think.
The 28-year-old is still a constant Twitter trend, a talking point when it comes to different conversations and perspectives on the physicality and skill of the game. But now, one of the main chats he has entered is that of Team Canada’s Olympic Roster. Daily Faceoff’s Steve Greeley has No. 43 on his projected roster for Team Canada, with more also giving Wilson consideration. It earned some controversy, with Mitch Marner drawing out for Wilson, but it’s not too much for a long shot.
“He brings a different element… he also checks a lot of boxes for me when it comes to winning hockey games,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of Wilson when it comes to his Olympic chances.
Wilson confirmed to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti that he going through IOC testing and is on the long list of 55 players for Canada’s Olympic Team. And with each game, it appears more likely that he could very well be on his way to Beijing come February — and rightfully so.
Looking at his 2021-22 campaign, Wilson has been a different player for the Capitals as he works to change his image. Not only has he taken on more responsibility, but he’s producing offensively and playing a clean game. There have been no controversial, questionable hits this season. And still, he’s able to maintain a strong level of physical play, managing 72 hits so far this season.
Not only that, he has been smarter about taking penalties, and just had his first fight the other night for good reason: to stand up for teammate John Carlson.
“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 said earlier in the season.
So far, he has delivered. Through 26 games, he has nine goals and 24 points. He has stepped up big time and helped drive success on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Wilson is engaging in puck battles, getting to the high-danger areas and helping up the ante on the forecheck. He ranks third among forwards in average TOI per game (19:28) and has also logged significant minutes on special teams, with 1:28 ATOI on the penalty kill and 2:33 ATOI on the man advantage.
“He’s the muscle and the engine on the car,” Laviolette noted of Washington’s tough guy. “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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And, with top-6 forwards T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Conor Sheary missing lengthy periods of time, Wilson has been one of the leaders on and off the ice. He is filling the void on special teams and top two lines, while also serving as a mentor to the Capitals prospects and call-ups who have been thrown into the throes of the NHL.
“He’s really good guy. He’s trying to help me, too,” sophomore netminder Vitek 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.”
Wilson’s leadership this season also earned him the “A” when one of Washington’s alternate captains draws out of the lineup.
“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.”
With Wilson taking on the role of a team player and producer for the Capitals, him making Team Canada’s roster isn’t too much of a long shot. Canada will need a utility player who can do it all and serve as a versatile forward, and it shouldn’t be just an arsenal of superstars making up that roster.
The 6-4, 220-pound forward can play responsibly, add size and physicality and most importantly, contribute in multiple ways. So, if he does end up heading to Beijing, it will be well-earned, and at this point, no surprise.