The Washington Times - May 16, 2013, 12:29PM

Tom Wilson got his first taste of the NHL in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a shoo-in to make the Washington Capitals’ 2013-14 opening night roster.

Wilson is still just 19 years old, and while the right wing is considered the No. 2 prospect in the pipeline, the Caps don’t want to rush him.


“I explained to him, ‘We’re going to do what’s best for your development,’ ” general manager George McPhee said Wednesday. “Is it go back to junior, be on the power play and kill penalties and score 40 goals or come and play with us for 8 to 10 minutes a game and survive? I don’t want him to be a career survivor, though. I want him to develop. I’m not sure right now what the answer is to that. He’ll probably provide the answer when he comes to training camp.”

Wilson, who played on the fourth line in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Rangers after left wing Martin Erat dislocated his left elbow, enjoyed his cameo appearance with the Caps. He credited teammates, and specifically impending free agent forward Matt Hendricks, for talking to him about what to expect in the NHL.

Now, he’s ready to do more than play three games in a limited role.

“[I have an] opportunity, I think, next year to come in here and make an impact,” Wilson said. “I got a little bit of experience in the postseason this year, which was amazing, and really was privileged to have had that opportunity. I’m just going to work hard this offseason and hopefully come in in September and make an impact.”

Depending on how the Caps’ forward ranks shake out this summer, including Hendricks’ status and the potential impact of compliance buyouts, there could be room for Wilson.

If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, he could find himself back in the Ontario Hockey League with the Plymouth Whalers. Wilson had 23 goals and 35 assists in 28 regular-season games and then nine goals and eight assists in 12 OHL playoff games.

That Wilson dominated at the junior level makes it a “tough call” for McPhee and the Caps, who have allowed Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson to contribute young.

“A lot of times these kids come in and they look great in camp and then they look good in October but by December they’re not playing much and they start to fade,” McPhee said. “They don’t really want to go back to junior so if you send them back there they’re not having fun there, so over the years I’ve tried to cut them early and send them back so there’s no temptation there to keep them around. But this kid’s a first-round pick and he played a year of junior after we drafted him, not unlike Ovi, Nicky and Johansson. They played one year and then we started with them.”

At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Wilson brings something the Caps don’t have: a physical, power forward who hits first and asks questions later. Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward are big bodies, but their skill-sets are a little different.

Wilson, who also played three games for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League in the Calder Cup playoffs, was noticeable on a few shifts for the Caps despite not registering a point.

“Thought he played real well for us in three games in the playoffs,” McPhee said. “He’s a big kid that works his tail off, he’s got good speed and he’s going to get even bigger now. He’s only 19. So we’ll see what it looks like in training camp but at the end of the day we want him to be a really good player for a long time so we’ll make that decision based on what it looks like in training camp.”