Fresh off a rookie campaign in which he played all 82 games but averaged fewer than eight minutes per contest, Tom Wilson is already eyeing a bigger workload next season.
“Logging a couple more minutes next year would definitely be a big goal of mine,” Wilson told CSNWashington.com from the Capitals’ open house Wednesday at the Verizon Center.
“It’s a little bit different playing 13, 14 or 15 minutes a night versus playing seven, eight or nine. So hopefully, if I work hard this summer and get into good shape, I’ll be able to do so next year.”
Wilson was a fixture in the Capitals lineup last year –- one of seven iron men to appear in every game -- but much of his freshman season was spent on Washington’s fourth line.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound forward had three goals, seven assists and a team-high 151 penalty minutes. He skated an average of 7:56 per game, the second-lowest average ice time on the team among players with at least 20 games played.
“Wilson, I would have liked him to play a lot more last year,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said at his introductory press conference last month.
“There were certain points in the season where he could have been given more ice time, given a little power play, certain games where that would have been effective for him. We’ve got to work on his skill level. That’s the key for him. He’s obviously proven he’s physical and can skate and can hit and fight, but I want him to be a top-six forward.”
That might be easier said than done given that the right wing position was the deepest in the Capitals’ organization last season.
POTENTIAL LINEUP SHUFFLING:
With Alex Ovechkin slotted in as Washington’s top line right winger last year, Troy Brouwer played on the second line, with Joel Ward on the third unit and Wilson playing limited minutes on the fourth line. The depth at the position also led to Eric Fehr regularly playing center for the first time in his pro career.
Head Coach Barry Trotz was non-committal when asked last month whether he intends to play Ovechkin on the right wing (where he played under Adam Oates the past two seasons) or on the left side (where he played for the first seven years of his NHL career), but the possibility of Ovechkin returning to the left could mean bigger roles for Brouwer, Ward and Wilson on the right side.
But even then, Wilson still would be battling a number of veterans for increased opportunities, whether at even strength or on the power play.
“It’s a fine line,” Wilson conceded. “You want to be a good team guy and stuff, but at the same time, it’s our job. You’ve got to work hard and it’s a healthy competition [for ice time] so I’m always going to want to play more minutes, but so is everyone else. That’s what makes it good competition.”
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WILSON READY TO IMPRESS TROTZ
As Wilson looks forward to a potentially bigger role with the Capitals next season, he also knows that any additional responsibilities will have to be earned under the new bench boss. The two recently spent about 15 minutes on the phone “just to touch base and get familiar with each other,” Wilson said.
“The biggest thing that Barry said is that he’s a fan and that he likes the way I play, but that I have to earn what he’s going to give me. He said that I can’t just show up and be given a spot. He said that I’ll have to earn everything.”
Trotz may not have followed Wilson closely last season, but based on his coaching philosophy and his own beliefs in how to manage young prospects, he too would likely have found more ice-time for the NHL rookie.
“With younger players, the longer that you can have them in a situation where they’re playing high minutes and producing, then that’s the right [spot] for them,” Trotz said last month.
“I don’t believe in young players not playing decent minutes. If they’re not [playing quality NHL minutes], then maybe they should be playing a lot more [minutes] in the minors.”
Unlike a year ago when Wilson could not play with the Hershey Bears because of age restrictions in the American Hockey League, the now 20-year-old could theoretically skate in the AHL next season. But after earning his stripes with the Capitals last season, Wilson is ready to settle in for 2014-15.
“Last year I wanted to come in and just do everything I could to make the team... Now coming into this season, I feel part of the team. I had a great year, I know all of the guys and I want to continue to be part of the team and I’m going to do anything that it takes and hopefully take on a bit of a bigger role.”
After shuttling from Capitals’ development camps to Hockey Canada evaluation camps the past few summers, Wilson has enjoyed a more relaxing offseason with friends and family in Toronto.
Wilson says his offseason training routine includes a Monday through Friday workout regimen with trainer Matt Nichol and fellow NHLers Wayne Simmons of the Philadelphia Flyers, Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames and Raffi Torres of the San Jose Sharks.