3 days of practice making Caps eager for game Thursday
The Caps open up the longest homestand of their season tonight against Carolina (7 p.m. on CSN) and for Tom Wilson the next five games at Verizon Center will determine whether he stays in the NHL or heads back to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
By the end of this homestand the Caps will have played eight games. Under CBA guidelines, a junior-aged player must stay with his NHL team for the entire season once he’s played in his 10th NHL game.
Since the Caps embark on a weeklong trip to Western Canada following their five-game set at home, the clock is ticking on Wilson, who has no points, one fight and is averaging 6:16 in his first three NHL games
Wilson has little say on whether he remains in Washington or returns to Plymouth for a fourth season, but if he was asked his opinion he would make a strong argument that his development is being enhanced by his time in the NHL, not hampered.
“The practices are so high tempo and you’re surrounded by skill players,” Wilson said. “I think what makes me better is being surrounded by such talent. You’re able to learn from these guys because everyone’s at the highest level.
“If you go back to junior it’s a very, very wide range, from 16-year-olds that have just come out of minor hockey to guys that have been drafted and guys who haven’t and have been in the league five years.”
At 19, Wilson said he’s still growing into his 6-foot-4, 210-pound body and while he would like to receive more than fourth-line minutes, he said it was hard on his body playing close to 30 minutes a night during last year’s OHL playoffs.
Wilson appears to have a strong advocate in Capitals coach Adam Oates, who, ironically, was sent to the AHL Adirondack Red Wings during his rookie season with the Detroit Red Wings in 1985-86.
In 38 games with Detroit , Oates recorded nine goals and 11 assists and was a minus-24. In 34 games with Adirondack he had 18 gols and 28 assists.
“I didn’t think it was fair and I still don’t,” Oates said. “But I also understand why. I don’t think I needed to do that, but organizations make decisions.”
Oates said you can make a valid argument for keeping 19-year-old rookies like Wilson and Connor Carrick on an NHL roster, just as you can make a valid argument for sending them to the minors or junior hockey.
Cam Neely played 56 games for the Vancouver Canucks in his rookie season, scored 16 goals, and went on to score 30 or more six times in his career. In Philadelphia, Rick Tocchet played 75 games as a rookie, scored 14 goals and went on to score 30 or more five times in his career. And in Boston, Joe Thornton managed just three goals in 55 games as a rookie and went on to score 20 or more goals 11 times.
Oates played with all three players and sees some of the same physical attributes in Wilson. Oates said the decision on Wilson and Carrick will come down to what’s best for the Caps and the future of their young prospects.
“When I watch them play, they don’t look like 19-year-olds to me,” Oates said. “They might make mistakes, but they’re mistakes. Ovi and Green and Backy make mistakes. But I haven’t seen a 19-year-old mistake yet.”