Tom Wilson has come a long way from the Adam Oates days of fourth-line minutes and a limited role. He enjoyed a career season in 2017-18 on the top line and now is signed for six more deals with a $31 million contract.
With that contract, however, comes new responsibilities and a new role.
First, it means that he must produce. Second, and just as important, he has to stay on the ice.
“I want to be on the ice and not in the box or not in the stands,” Wilson said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “It's different. I'm growing into a different role. You don't necessarily make as many big hits if you're playing 19, 20 minutes so I'm going to have lots of stuff on my plate to keep me focused.”
Everyone knows the type of physical punishing style in which Wilson plays, including the Department of Player Safety (DoPS).
After two preseason incidents netted Wilson two suspensions last year, the second of which cost him the first four games of the regular season, Wilson went to great lengths to adapt to the DoPS’s standards. He and general manager Brian MacLellan met with the head of the department, George Parros and Wilson managed to avoid another suspension for the rest of the regular season.
The playoffs, however, were a different story.
Wilson was suspended three games for a hit to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the second round and he is well aware that he will find himself in the Department’s crosshairs next season as a repeat offender.
The game is changing, even from the time Wilson first entered the league.. He knows that and knows he has to adapt to the times.
“I think it would be stubborn on my part not to admit that the game is changing,” he said. “There is definitely an eye on that part, the physical part of the game in the NHL right now. I want to be contributing. I want to be a part of the success of the group. If I'm not going to adapt and change with the times, I'm not going to be able to do that.”
To that end, Wilson told reporters he intends to talk to various people around the league to further educate himself and avoid another suspension. The best prevention for those type of hits, however, will be Wilson's increased role.
A team does not hand out a $31 million contract to a bottom-six player whose only skill is throwing his body around the ice with reckless abandon. The Caps paid Wilson like a top-six player, that comes with the expectation that he will play like one.
“I'm going to be worried about playing both ends of the ice, playing next to [Alex Ovechkin] and [Evgeny Kuznetsov] and playing with high-skilled players and making plays for them,” Wilson said.
That’s an attitude he will have to commit to throughout the season. Wilson’s style of play would have fit right in back in the more physical days of the NHL, but times are changing. Wilson needs to change with it.
“That physical part of my game is always going to be there,” Wilson said. “That's the nature of who I am, that's how I play the game. I'm not going to let anyone take that away from me, but I have to be smart about it.”
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