Tom Wilson will make his NHL debut in the playoffs, as he’ll join the Washington Capitals’ lineup for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Rangers on Friday night.
The 19-year-old right wing and No. 16 pick last June is expected to play on the fourth line alongside Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle.
“It’s a surprise,” said Wilson, recalled from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Thursday.” I just came in here and wasn’t really expecting it. I mean, I didn’t want to expect too much and yesterday I kind of found out a little bit and then today has just been a whirlwind so far and it’s definitely a big day.”
Wilson played 12 games in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs for the Plymouth Whalers and had nine goals and eight assists. He scored a goal in three Calder Cup Playoff games with Hershey before the Bears were eliminated.
“I think that can only help,” coach Adam Oates said. “He’s playing at a high level. He played his last junior series at a high level. He played great. He feels good about himself. He’s at a good place.”
At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Wilson brings a physical element to the series that the Caps didn’t have in their forward ranks for the first four games. Given the presence of Brian Boyle, Ryane Clowe and Derek Dorsett for the Rangers, Wilson provides an answer.
“Every time there’s a chance to hit a guy, you should finish him because in a long series the bumps and the bruises, if you ask any hockey player, they add up,” Wilson said. “So guys finish their checks in the playoffs and they play hard.”
Wilson took two penalties in his first playoff game for the Bears, and his physical play is one area he could hurt the Caps if officials are calling Game 5 tightly.
“We’re not trying to give him too much information,” Oates said. “We don’t want to wear him out, you know, but he’s a smart guy. He knows he’s got to be careful about penalties.”
What Wilson adds is a big body who has some offensive skill, too. Last year the Rangers plugged highly touted prospect Chris Kreider in for Game 3 against the Ottawa Senators; he had six goals and two assists in 18 playoff games, including one memorably tally against the Caps.
On a fundamental level, Wilson isn’t being counted on to score.
“I talked to Oates a little bit and he wants me finishing my checks and stuff and keeping it simple: pucks out, pucks in,” Wilson said, “and just getting the first one out of the way.”
Wilson fits in well on the fourth line, replacing Joel Ward who gets bumped up as part of a domino effect following Martin Erat’s left wrist/arm injury in Game 4.
“He moves well too for his size and he’s got ability,” Hendricks said of Wilson. “[If] you get pucks to him in the corners, he’ll be able to hold guys off and maybe take pucks to the net. I think with his game, he’s going to be strong in front the net – point shots and such and causing havoc in front of the net.”