A little less than a year ago, Capitals rookie right wing Tom Wilson was one of the last forwards cut from the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 2013 World Junior Championships.
Back then, spurred by some encouraging Tweets, Wilson made himself a little promise.
“After I was cut, so many [NHL] alumni were tweeting at me saying, ‘Hey, listen. I got cut back in the day two or three times,’” Wilson said.
“That was a goal of mine when I got cut -- to make them kind of almost want me that much more this year and not have me available and beg for me. There was a lot of motivation to do that.
“Obviously, Hockey Canada is a first-class organization and I’m so happy to always participate for them, but at the same time it was a little extra motivation.”
On Monday Hockey Canada released its 25-man roster for the 2014 World Junior Championships to be held Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Malmo, Sweden. Wilson was not on it, but not because Team Canada didn’t want him. In a meeting between Capitals general manager George McPhee, head coach Adam Oates and Wilson it was decided that it would be best for Wilson – and for the Capitals – that he remain on their NHL roster.
“For me, Willie’s an NHL player,” Oates said. “He’s conquered junior. Nothing against that tournament at all, [but] I think he’s moved past it.”
Wilson, 19, has played in all 27 games for the Capitals this season. He has one goal, three assists and a team-high 53 penalty minutes while averaging 7:10 of ice time, ahead of only linemate Aaron Volpatti [7:05].
“He’s an NHL player,” Oates said. “He’s a part of our team. He’s important to our team. He’s playing in buildings where there’s 20,000 people. I’ve always had the attitude that I grew up trying to be an NHLer.
“Playing for Team Canada is a huge thing on your resume, don’t get me wrong. But you grow up trying to be an NHLer and to me, he’s an NHLer right now.”
There was more to the Capitals’ decision to keep Wilson on their roster than having him play 7 minutes a night. He recently moved into the home of a billet family in Arlington and would need to attend a Team Canada selection camp on Dec. 12. There’s also the issue of adapting to a larger ice surface in Sweden and the travel involved getting to and from the tournament.
Wilson seemed to be OK with the Capitals’ decision, but said he’ll be Team Canada’s biggest cheerleader once the tournament begins.
“It’s obviously a dream to play for your country but my priority is here in Washington,” Wilson said. “I think [the Capitals] had in mind what they wanted. I’m not really going to dwell on it.
“I’m wishing those guys the best and it’s going to be a great tournament, but I’m happy to be here. It’s the best buildings in the world, the best fan bases in the world. It’s not like I’m somewhere else. I’m in the National Hockey League and that’s amazing.”