Tom Wilson played in his ninth regular season game for the Capitals Tuesday night in Winnipeg.
If he plays Wednesday night in Edmonton against the Oilers [9:30 p.m., CSN] he’ll crack the 10-game plateau, meaning he will have burned the first year of his three-year, entry level contract with the Caps.
Through his first nine games with the Caps, Wilson, 19, has no points, nine shots, three fights, 26 hits and is a minus-2.
But the number fans want to discuss most is the 7 minutes and 7 seconds of ice time Wilson is averaging per game.
Which takes us back to the concerns Caps GM George McPhee voiced last spring when he said he did not want Wilson to be a fourth line “survivor.”
Is that still a concern for the Capitals?
“Of course,” said Caps coach Adam Oates, who dictates Wilson’s ice time.
“But he can go back to junior, score goals and get assists and play 20 minutes but develop a lot of bad habits. They’re not the [same] goals he’d score here, not the assists he’d get here and not the situations with the speed you’d get here. His [Capitals] teammates love him and hopefully he continues to grow.”
To be clear, even if Wilson plays his 10th NHL game, the Caps could send him back to the OHL Plymouth Whalers at any time this season. If they do, he burns up the first year of his contract AND they cannot recall him until after the Whalers have completed their season.
So, unless they reverse the decision they made on Friday, Wilson will spend the remainder of the season in Washington and if you believe some of his veteran teammates, that’s where the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder belongs.
“He’s got the work ethic, he’s got the body,” said veteran left wing Marty Erat. “It’s kind of hard for him when you play only six or seven minutes to show them what he is. But he handles himself very well.”
Of the 73 rookies who have played in the NHL this season, Wilson ranks 66th in ice time.
To justify Wilson’s place on the Caps’ 23-man roster, many believe he’ll need to have a role as a third line right wing, averaging between 10 and 12 minutes a night. Oates was asked if that was the long-term goal for Wilson.
“We’re pretty swamped on the right side,” Oates said, “but do I see that? Yes.”
Erat said there is far more to Wilson’s learning curve than goals, assists and ice time.
“Look at [former Predators teammate] Scottie Hartnell,” Erat said. “When he was in Nashville as a rookie, he scored two goals [in 75 games]. One, he hit somebody in the butt and one hit him in the head. Those are the two goals he scored all year and look at his career right now.”
Hartnell has gone on to score 20 or more goals six times in his career, twice hitting the 30-goal mark.
“And I think Tom’s got much more skill than Hartnell,” Erat said. “Hartsy’s a great player. He scores lots of goals in the crease.”
Erat used John Tavares as another example, even though he netted 24 goals as a rookie.
“Everybody told him, ‘You can’t skate, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ Look at him now,” Erat said. “He’s one of the best players in the league. It’s the way you handle the pressure and how hard your work.”
Wilson said he believes it’s only a matter of time before he starts converting some of his scoring chances, saying he;s had three or four “Grade A” opportunities to score.
“I just need to learn how to maybe take a breath,” he said. “I feel like I have to do everything so fast. I learned how to score at the junior level and what you need to do to get it in the back of the net and now I’ve got to learn how to score at this level and get those bonus goals for our line.”
In the meantime, Wilson is hoping to make the most of the minutes by dropping the gloves when he thinks it’s necessary, spending more time in the offensive zone than the defensive zone, and not being on the ice for opposing goals.
“Everybody knows he can fight,” Alex Ovechkin said. “He’s strong. He’s young, but he’s big and I cant believe how strong he’s going to be.
“Of course he wants to do more like he usually do [in juniors], but he’s still young and he’s still learning how to play. But I’ll tell you, he’s going to learn quick and he’s going to be a really good player.”