Tom Wilson has seen two hockey seasons end in two weeks. He hopes things go better for his new team.
The Capitals recalled their 19-year-old winger from AHL Hershey on Thursday one day after the Bears’ season came to an end in a decisive Game 5 loss to Providence on Wednesday night. Wilson learned the news of his promotion on the team bus from Hershey general manager Doug Yingst.
After an all-night bus ride from Providence to central Pennsylvania – and working on less than two hours sleep – Wilson and veteran winger Joey Crabb loaded their equipment into a car and drove to Washington in time for a practice.
Wilson took line rushes with Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle, which is the fourth line. That would mean he’s set to make his NHL debut in Game 5 of a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the New York Rangers on Friday night at Verizon Center. Crabb skated with injured forward Brooks Laich (groin surgery) and recent scratches Aaron Volpatti and Wojtek Wolski.
“You never know right? I’m just coming in here learning and not trying to get my expectations up or anything,” Wilson said. “But I’ve been watching every game, I love watching the Caps play. They’ve been very exciting lately and now I’m in the room and it’s very cool.
Washington coach Adam Oates took pains to say no decision has been made yet. Volpatti and Wolski remain options. But the fact is both players are left wings and neither has played in a game recently. Volpatti last appeared in a game on April 27 and Wolski hasn’t been seen since April 11.
Crabb and Wilson, meanwhile, are both right wings and in fine form after playing for Hershey in the Calder Cup playoffs. Crabb had five goals in five games against Providence and in 17 total games in Hershey since being sent down he has 11 goals and 11 assists.
“That goes into the factoring, yeah,” Oates said of Volpatti and Wolski’s inaction.
Wilson just turned 19 on March 29. He was a first-round draft pick last June, No. 16 overall. Ironically, an injury to second-line left wing Martin Erat in Game 4 on Wednesday may have given Wilson the opportunity to play. Erat himself was acquired for Washington’s other first-round draft pick in 2012, right wing Filip Forsberg. He was taken five picks before Wilson, whose stellar play for OHL Plymouth this season (32 goals, 43 assists in 60 games, including playoffs) may have made Forsberg expendable in the first place. Both are right wings, after all.
Wilson was briefly in training camp with Washington in the middle of the OHL season once the NHL lockout ended. He’d been asked to dial back his nasty side on a return trip to Plymouth and work on his offensive game. For the most part he did so successfully. His penalty minutes – 141 last season – dropped modestly to 104 this time around. Wilson did serve a five-game suspension in January for checking an opponent from behind.
He’s a big, physical presence at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds who makes you dream of Milan Lucic. He also hasn’t played in a single NHL game and the Caps would be putting him into a tied playoff game against a disciplined, tested team. Washington would burn a year of Wilson’s three-year entry-level contract if he appeared in six games this spring. That, of course, would mean winning the Rangers series and advancing to the second round. That’s a decision they’d love to face.
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