Capitals coach Adam Oates says it isn’t time to push the panic button after his team’s 1-3 start. He’s right, though it might not be a bad idea to at least locate it and make sure it is powered up in case the Caps’ doldrums continue for a few more games.
Washington has scored three goals in its past two games, two of them coming in a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Verizon Center. A complete listing of their issues would take up too much time and space, but suffice it to say too many Caps are carrying around zeroes on the scoresheet.
Ah, but it isn’t all gloom and doom. One thing the Caps don’t have to do is wonder if they made the right decision to keep 19-year-old Tom Wilson on their roster. A small sample size to be sure with only four games, but Wilson is giving them their money’s worth so far.
He, too, has zeros on the score sheet. No goals, no assists. A winger on the fourth line, he isn’t getting the big minutes yet.
“He’s not really getting enough minutes to get into a groove,” Oates said.
So why the love?
Wilson is showing a good bit of toughness, the value of which can’t be overstated on a team that lost a good bit of toughness when Matt Hendricks signed with Nashville in the offseason.
Wilson got into another scrap against Carolina. Though he only logged 6:38 of ice time over 10 shifts, Wilson tied for the team lead by being credited with four hits. The other Cap with four hits, Troy Brouwer, played 19:10.
His teammates have noticed Wilson’s willingness to mix it up, and they’re appreciative.
“Anybody who has played hockey will tell you, it is not an easy thing to do,” Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy said “He’s been great for us. It is huge for the locker room, huge for the energy in the building.”
“I haven’t known him for too long, but that’s one of the things I heard right away, that he’s kind of mean out there,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He kind of likes to get in the mix, stand up for his teammates. It’s nice to have guys like that on your team. Boson’s full of them, and they seem to continue to win.”
Alzner took the Boston comparison a step further and said he sees some of Milan Lucic in Wilson. Lucic, like Wilson, broke into the league as a 19-year-old. Now 25, Lucic is considered one of the toughest players in the NHL and he can play a bit, too. He had 30 goals in 2010-11, 26 the next season.
“He came into the league and he fought everybody,” Alzner said. “And we also found out he can play, too. Look where he is now. I think Willy can be that exact same thing.”
A high bar, no doubt. But perhaps not as crazy as it sounds. Wilson, like Lucic, is 6-4. He’s 10 pounds lighter at 210 but he’s also got some room to grow. He can score, too. He had three goals in preseason. Last year, with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, Wilson had 23 goals in 48 games.
He added another nine in 12 playoff games.
Goals will come. The feistiness and the respect it brings are already there.
When teammate Jack Hillen was injured on a hard (but clean) hit in the Caps’ home opener, Wilson immediately went after Calgary’s Lance Bouma.
“His teammates gain a lot of respect for a guy who’s willing to do that,” Oleksy said.
Said Oates, “I really love his energy and his size out there, and his willingness to hit, finish, create some opportunities. He’s still learning.”
Wilson wants to develop to where he can skate with one of the top two lines, a reasonable goal although unlikely to happen this season. In the meantime, he’ll continue to do what he can do.
The Caps may not have considered him as a possible replacement for Hendricks and he hasn’t been around long enough to bring the gravitas Hendricks brought. So call him, for now, a poor man’s Hendricks. Or a future Lucic.
Whatever, the Caps need it.
“It is important to have an energy guy who is willing to stand up for teammates,” Wilson said. “I don’t think I’m out there looking for fights. I want to use my physical play, protect the puck, get momentum.
“When you play the role of that physicality and hitting guys, it draws attention to you and guys want to respond to it … I’m not going to back down.”