VANCOUVER, British Columbia | A flashy debut is nothing new for Kyle Wilson.
He hopes what follows is just as impressive.
Wilson had two assists and nearly added a goal or two in his first NHL game Tuesday night in a 6-1 win for the Washington Capitals. It wasn’t unlike his first game for the Hershey Bears.
He had two points - both goals - in that game as well.
“It was the same type of thing - you go to the right spots and sometimes you get bounces and sometimes you don’t,” Wilson said. “That was a time where I got the bounces and I was able to take a hold of it.”
Wilson’s professional career came from humble beginnings. He was drafted by Minnesota in 2004 - in the ninth round, 273 picks after the Caps snagged Alex Ovechkin.
That was after his sophomore season at Colgate. Two years passed, including a 23-goal, 41-point senior campaign, but the Wild decided to pass on signing Wilson. He latched on with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League but was cut loose after seven uneventful games.
He signed with Hershey and was immediately shipped to South Carolina of the ECHL. But then the Bears had some injuries, and he got his chance. Not only did he stick around, he has become a key figure for the AHL powerhouse. Three-plus seasons and 91 AHL goals later, Wilson is in the big leagues.
“I’m impressed that he kept going and didn’t quit,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I remember the conversation well when [general manager George McPhee] asked if I thought he should be put on an NHL contract, and I said I think he has a chance.
“He does a lot of good things, and it is determination when you don’t get the opportunity at the beginning, and there was an awful lot of centermen in our organization who come up before him in the past couple of years.”
The waiting wasn’t always easy for Wilson. After a 24-goal debut with the Bears, he continued to post solid numbers each of the past two seasons. Each time the Caps needed a forward - and there were many - Wilson was passed over.
Still, the Oakville, Ontario, native pressed on and waited for his big break.
“You always have points along the way where you question what the future holds,” Wilson said. “Along the way you just end up getting opportunities and you have to take advantage of them.”
Wilson’s NHL career is off to quite a start. He had an assist on his first shift Tuesday night and scoring chances on each of the next two before adding another assist later in the contest.
That the game took place at Pepsi Center also had extra meaning. Joe Sakic was Wilson’s favorite player as a kid, and Sakic’s jersey number hangs from the rafters in Denver after the center’s brilliant career with Quebec and Colorado.
“It just adds a little bit to the experience,” Wilson said. “I heard they have a little shrine to him in their dressing room. That would have been nice to see, but growing up I loved him. I was always a small guy too with the skill. It was definitely a great building to have my first game in.”
Wilson is not the first center to come up from Hershey and excel in the short term. First Keith Aucoin and then Mathieu Perreault had fast starts, but both are back with the Bears.
“He made the most of [the opportunity] the first game,” Boudreau said. “But as we all know with young guys - and I know from way too much personal experience - you have to keep it going, keep it going until the upper management says, ‘Hey, this guy can play.’ ”