Tom Wilson: 100-Goal Scorer, Grinder, Winter Olympic Outsider

It’s official, Tom Wilson is a 100-goal scorer in the NHL – and it’s about time. The Canadian, now in his ninth season with the Washington Capitals, took 595 games, five suspensions, and a handful of major controversies to reach the century mark. And even that doesn’t scratch the surface of the trials and tribulations that have punctuated his career.

Wilson is 27 (he’ll turn 28 before the end of the season), and is a one-time Stanley Cup winner. He was drafted 16th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and has averaged just under half a point per game throughout his professional career.

Tom WIlson scored the 100th goal of his NHL career in Washington’s 4-3 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks on December 7.

Much beloved in D.C., Wilson is regarded as a pantomime villain elsewhere – which complicates matters when it comes to scrutinizing his record.

So, what should we make of Wilson – the grinder, the playmaker, and the goal scorer?

Tom Wilson, the Grinder

Wilson’s reputation as a grinder (or perhaps even a goon) proceeds him. Since entering the NHL in 2013, he leads all players in penalty minutes (1,154) – a tally that includes 18 misconducts and two match penalties. His suspension history is similarly long.

Wilson’s first ban, for a hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas, came in September 2017. Nine days later, he was suspended again – this time for four games for boarding Blues forward Sammy Blais. It would become something of a habit.

For checking Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese to the head in the 2017-18 playoffs, Wilson was banned for three games. Five months later, he received a 20-game suspension (which was later reduced to 14) for hitting Oskar Sundqvist – also of St. Louis – in the head.

In 2020-21, Wilson was banned for seven games for a hit on Brandon Carlo versus the Boston Bruins.

Omitted from this article is a list of occasions when Wilson crossed the line but wasn’t punished by the Department of Player Safety (DOPS). That, of course, includes “the horrifying act of violence” he committed at Maddison Square Garden last season.

If you’ve forgotten, Wilson slammed Artemi Panarin head-first into the ice without a helmet and only received a $5,000 fine in the way of supplementary discipline. DOPS came under heavy fire for its handling of the incident, with New York Rangers forward Ryan Strome leading the charge against the decision.

“I think it’s a joke, to be honest with you,” Strome said.

It’s undeniable that Wilson’s reputation is mainly deserved. He crosses lines and is unapologetic about doing so. But is there more to his game?

Tom Wilson, the Playmaker

In a word, yes.

Wilson has 245 points through 595 regular-season games, adding to his 30 points in 82 playoff appearances. He has 15 assists this season, although he has spent much of it playing on a line with one of the greatest goal scorers of all time. So, it figures.

But it’s worth getting beyond the numbers on this – because Wilson is starting to demonstrate his quality on the puck and is making an impact at five-on-five.

Tom Wilson Washington Capitals
Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Although Wilson’s single-season assist record is 23, he’s bound to blast past that number this time out. He’s currently on pace for 47 assists in 2021-22 – evidence of the Canadian’s growing influence on the Capitals’ possession game. He’s more involved in Washington’s build-up play than ever before – and Caps head coach Peter Laviolette has noticed.

“I think he handles all of that,” Laviolette said of Wilson’s impact. “I think his leadership in the room continues to grow. And so all of that [two-way impact] was there, and I think it’s continued on this year.”

Tom Wilson, the Goal Scorer

Given the nature of his latest milestone, it’s worth assessing Wilson’s value as a goal scorer. Many of his 100 NHL goals have come from in front of the net, but he’s notched his fair share of highlight reelers too.

Take this, a playoff goal versus the Boston Bruins, as a prime example.

Wilson, in the clip above, broke behind the Bruins’ defence, used his foot speed to beat Charlie McAvoy to the puck, and demonstrated his quick release to beat Tuukka Rask.

In February of this year, Wilson demonstrated his two-way ability by scoring an individualistic short-handed goal against the Buffalo Sabres.

In the example above, the play started along the boards, where Wilson stole the puck from defenceman Sam Reinhart. From there, he turned on the afterburners to break into the Sabres’ zone and puck-handled beautifully before scoring on his backhand.

Much is said and written about Wilson’s aggression, but he certainly knows how to put the puck in the net and is starting to do so with increasing frequency.

Tom Wilson, the Winter Olympian?

Per’s Tom Gulitti, Wilson is on Team Canada’s long-list for the upcoming Winter Olympics, which speaks to the extent he is underrated as a hockey player and overrated as a goon.

Moreover, the ‘Wilson for Beijing’ bandwagon is gaining pace. The 27-year-old is on Steve Greeley’s latest Olympic roster projection (wildly, in place of Mitch Marner) – in part because he has shown that he can be trusted in high-pressure situations.

Related: Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson is More Than Just a Physical Presence

It also helps that he’s playing – and talking – like a trustworthy pro.

“It’s a lot of fun playing with these guys,” Wilson said of his Washington teammates. “Whatever I can do to compete and play my game. [The] most important thing right now is team wins. We have some adversity going, but we are rallying together and trying to keep collecting the Ws.”

Wilson divides opinion. He’s hated by some and adored by others. But mention his name, and the reaction won’t be one of indifference. If you want to measure a player’s influence, good or bad, take account of public opinion. Whatever your view of the Ontarian forward, his impact on the Capitals, their rivals, and – to an extent – the NHL, is undeniable.

Wilson finally has his century of goals – adding another chapter to his peculiar career. Many more will follow.

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