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Tom Wilson ready for a bigger role with Capitals

Tom Wilson ready for a bigger role with Capitals

Tom Wilson heard what Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said after the season -- about how the Caps would like to turn him into the team’s next Joel Ward, an immovable object in front of opponents’ nets.

On Friday, after signing a two-year, $4 million contract to remain with the Capitals, Wilson said he welcomes the challenge.

“Wardo is an exceptional guy on and off the ice,” Wilson said. “Just being compared to him is pretty cool. He was like an older brother to me, almost like a father figure to me in my first couple years."

“He’s a great guy and he’s really good at what he does. If I’m going to help the team out I have to continue to be really good at what I do and I can grow into that player – be good on the walls, make good plays on the breakouts, make smart plays in the offensive end, use my body. He’s so good at protecting the puck. He’s a guy I tried to watch as much as I could while he was in D.C. and I watched the playoffs to see how he was effective."

“If I could kind of mold into that type of player that would be awesome. I think our team needs that kind of guy. We need a Steady Eddie guy that’s going to produce and help the team out on any given night. Wardo was that for us and he was that for the Sharks this year.”

Ward, a 6-1, 226-pound right wing who signed with San Jose last summer, put up 21 goals and 22 assists in 79 games with the Sharks, and another seven goals and six assists in 24 playoff games.

Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound right wing, is 13 years younger than Ward. In 82 games with the Capitals he put up a career-high seven goals and 16 assists, but was limited to just one assist in 12 playoff games.

“We're optimistic with him,” MacLellan said of Wilson’s offensive upside. “He had, what, 30 points this year? (23, actually). Seven goals. Good improvement over last year. We expect the improvement to continue. He's still a young guy. He's got good size, is a good character guy, he provides a physical element. We're anticipating his offensive game to continue to grow.”

Last season, Wilson saw his average ice time increase from 10:56 in 2014-15 (when he netted four goals and 13 assists) to 12:54. Some of that extra ice time came on the penalty kill, where he averaged 1:35 a night. But Wilson saw just six seconds a game on the power play, a role that could expand with the departure of Jason Chimera, who averaged 1:26 of power-play time last season.

“He needs to show that he can handle it,” MacLellan said. “The coaches, they express what they're looking from him to be put in more of those situations and if he can come in and do well, he'll get more responsibility on the offensive side.”

To that end, Wilson said he is spending more time this summer working on his puck-handling skills and offensive positioning without losing sight of the energy and physicality he can provide. Last season Wilson led the Caps and finished 10th in the NHL with 253 hits.

“I think anyone who’s watched me play or watched the Caps know I’m kind of a heart-and-soul guy,” Wilson said. “I just try and go out there and do whatever I can to help the team win.

“I know the first day you guys talked to me (in 2012) I said I would play whatever role the coaches gave me and do something every night to prove I should stay in the lineup. Every year I’ve grown a little bit and got more and more responsibility. I don’t expect that to change.

"The responsibility and growth of the player should continue to come every year. I’m still young and I’m in a fortunate position. I want to take on a bigger role every year. It’s an exciting time in D.C. right now. It’s a fun group to be a part of and I’m thrilled. I wanted to be back in Washington. I love it there. I just want to win there.”

RELATED: CAPS SEE POTENTIAL IN CONNOLLY

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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby.

Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty-handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1.

It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

The Caps looked like they had the win in hand as they led 2-1 late in the third period, but things went off the rails in the final four minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers

Here's how the Caps lost.

An emotional start for Robert Luongo

Before the game, Roberto Luongo took the mic during an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragic Stoneman Douglas school shooting. As a writer, it was hard to get into the game after that. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for Luongo to focus to actually play in the game. But he did. He started off very well, making several strong saves in the first period. Washington scored late in the opening period after an offensive cycle of over a minute that completely wore out the Panthers' skaters. Otherwise, Luongo was brilliant turning aside 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes.

Another shaky start for Braden Holtby

This was the best game we have seen from Braden Holtby in a while as he made a number of phenomenal saves in the second and third period. In the first, however, he continued to struggle. Maxim Mamin scored his first career NHL goal and point as a puck trickled through Holtby and Mamin was able to slam it home. Holtby was dealing with a screen, but reacted late to the initial shot and late to Mamin.

Aleksander Barkov splitting Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

With a 2-1 lead late in the third, the Caps looked like they had control. But with less than four minutes remaining, Aleksander Barkov was able to split Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson to set up Nick Bjugstad for the game-tying goal. Ovechkin was backchecking, Carlson stepped up on him and then...nothing. It looked as if both players thought the other would take Barkov and Ovechkin let up at the same time Carlson skated past giving Barkov a lane to the net.

A late penalty to Lars Eller

With the game tied late, the Caps were exerting their will in the offensive zone with the cycle that had been dominant all game long...and then Lars Eller tried to set a pick on Bjugstad, knocking him to the ice. It was an obvious interference call with just 42 seconds remaining in the game. Florida would score 22 seconds later to deny Washington not only the win, but a point as well.