Capitals’ Tom Wilson is More Than Just a Physical Presence

The Washington Capitals scored seven goals on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. Of the seven skaters who registered a point, including a hat trick by T.J. Oshie and two goals from Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson contributed just a measly assist, but that’s all he needed to maintain the team lead.

The power forward is known for his physicality and ability to score goals, but he’s also strengthened another element of his game. Heading into Tuesday’s contest, he led the team in assists and plus-minus rating. He still does, and the Capitals are benefiting tremendously from his production.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson Adding “Playmaker” to His Resume

Wilson has built his reputation around his on-ice presence, but he is a rare breed—for this era—that also has strong offensive abilities. He has increased his production in each season since he entered the NHL in 2013-14. During the last two pandemic-shortened campaigns, he was on an 82-game pace to record 53 and 57 points, respectively, which would have been the two best seasons of his career.

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

Wilson has recorded more assists than goals in all but one of his nine NHL seasons. Yes, he has benefited from playing on a top line that features Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov; it’s easy to skate under the radar while playing with those two, though Wilson has made his presence known.

Wilson the Helper

No player can be ignored in the NHL. Yet, Wilson has some leeway to play freely, considering his linemates are two of the best at what they do—especially this season. But his fast start in the assist column has shown how well-rounded a player he is.

It has also shown how dedicated he is to the progression of his game. Physicality and finesse aren’t usually shared traits, though some players have both. With Nicklas Backstrom still out, a few Capitals have stepped up as playmakers, but Wilson is leading the charge, whose seven assists account for 18% of all of Washington’s helpers this season.    

Wilson in Control

As a penalty killer, Wilson’s plus-minus rating is always at risk. Yet, he is tied for a team-leading plus-9 with Nick Jensen—who has also been playing well. Wilson averages 1:38 of short-handed ice time per game. Jensen leads all Capitals with an average of 2:20 on the penalty kill per game.

Tom Wilson, Jeff Petry
Washington Capitals Tom Wilson and Montreal Canadiens Jeff Petry chase down the puck (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Wilson’s career-best was plus-11 in 2018-19. Of course, this season is young, but he is off to a great start. If he continues at this pace, the Capitals will become even more dangerous.   

Same Old Tom

Though he is goalless through the first six games of 2021-22, he is still productive. He also hasn’t lost his edge. Wilson is second on the team in hits with 14, trailing Garnet Hathaway, who has 15.

The goals will come, the hits will stay, but the assists and his plus-minus rating should be monitored. At this pace, the Capitals’ top line will arguably be one of if not the best in the NHL. The Edmonton Oilers may argue with that, but Ovechkin is second in points league-wide (12), Kuznetsov is tied for fourth (nine), and Wilson is tied for sixth (seven) without putting one in the net yet. Just wait.

Wilson Making Capitals Even More Dangerous

The Capitals players have a combined 65 points and an overall rating of plus-62. After the Senators game, they’re second in the league in goals (26) and fifth in average goals per game (4.33). The offense is rolling along.

Related: Alex Ovechkin’s Fast Start Keeps Him Moving Up Goal-Scoring Ladder

Expect Wilson to continue to develop and impress. He is on a five-game point streak, including a three-assist night against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 19. If his finesse game and playmaking abilities improve while he maintains his normal style of play, Washington will be even harder to contain. The Capitals can still come at the opposition’s defense in a variety of ways and are proving they are still a major threat to lift the Stanley Cup again.

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