ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals prospect Tom Wilson knew the odds were stacked against him. The likelihood of an 18-year-old making a Capitals roster that general manager George McPhee recently described as “ready to go” was slim at best.
Wilson even said as much on Tuesday when he predicted that “it could be any day that [head coach Adam] Oates calls me in” to deliver the news that he’d be returning to his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League.
Sure enough, that call came Wednesday afternoon when Wilson was re-assigned to the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers.
Still, over the course of three practices and one scrimmage, Wilson didn’t look out of place. And, if his goal was to impress Capitals’ management, then chalk it up as mission accomplished.
“He looked great out there,” Oates said after the Caps’ Tuesday scrimmage against the ECHL’s Reading Royals.
“He skated great, he looked like one of the guys and sometimes I didn’t realize it was him.”
“Our director of player development [Steve Richmond] insisted that he be here,” McPhee explained on day one of training camp.
“I hadn’t planned on bringing him, but I’m glad we did. Our director of player development is paid to go out and keep an eye on our kids and he said: ‘This kid deserves to be here.'”
The Capitals selected Wilson in the first round (16th overall) of last June’s NHL entry draft and see him as a physical player with the ability to score.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward has done both this season in the OHL where he has 13 goals, 36 points and 59 penalty minutes in 31 games with Plymouth.
“That’s a big thing in my game in junior,” said Wilson.
“I like to play physical. They’ve seen that. So when I come here I’m just trying to learn, pick little stuff up. Watching all the guys is a huge opportunity for me because they’re all top-notch, best in the world. Guys like Ovechkin- I can learn something new every day from them. It’s pretty cool being up here. I’m just trying to show other parts of my game.” The amount of contact was kept to a minimum during Tuesday’s scrimmage but that Wilson still impressed Caps’ management speaks to his all-around game.
“Part of his game is being physical and we asked the guys to tone that down and he looked very sharp out there,” Oates said. “I was very impressed- very different than [last summer’s] development camp.”
Wilson spent his time at camp skating primarily alongside Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Joel Ward on one of Washington’s checking lines.
At 18-years-old, Wilson isn’t eligible to play for the Caps’ top minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League yet – the AHL has an age minimum of 19- but he is eligible to see time in the NHL.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, NHL teams can dress junior players for as many as six games before the first year of their entry level contract would kick in.
Barring multiple injuries later this season though, it seems unlikely that the opportunity will arise for Wilson who is now expected to spend the rest of the year in junior.
Still, for four days in January, Wilson got his first taste at an NHL training camp. He now returns to his junior team more confident about his game and his ability to play with some of the best.
“These guys are all professionals and they pick things up really quickly,” he said.
“I have an advantage that everyone’s learning the new system, so I’m just trying to show that I can learn that and implement that into my game and play smart hockey.”